Is John McCain Slipping in Arizona?

December 11, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

In that piece about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) shift to the right in the Obama era, Jonathan Martin and Manu Raju mention that the senator is at least theoretically preparing for a 2010 primary battle against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), an ultra-conservative who went down in the 2006 Democratic wave. Not only have we seen polls that show Hayworth performing well, we have some evidence that McCain is less beloved in Arizona than he once was.

In 2000, McCain was locked in a functionally two-way battle for the GOP presidential nomination with George W. Bush. By Feb. 22, when Arizona held its primary, it was clear that Bush would win the nomination. McCain scored 60 percent of the vote anyway, a 24-point landslide over Bush, carrying every county, and carrying all but one, Graham County, with a majority.

In 2008, Arizona held its primary on Feb. 5, and McCain was moving ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the race for the GOP nomination, but most voters went to the polls thinking Romney had a chance to win if events broke his way. McCain won Arizona, but only with 47 percent of the vote, beating Romney by about 13 points. Romney carried three of Arizona’s 15 counties. McCain only won a majority in three counties: Coconino, Gila, and La Paz.

What does it mean? It’s open for debate, but it certainly suggests that McCain has a more conservative electorate to deal with these days. Both Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee performed better in their home states than McCain performed in Arizona.