The Republican Civil War Heads to Arizona

Republican Civil War

This post was originally published on Real Clear Politics.

On Tuesday, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, jumped into the race for Arizona’s now-open Senate seat. Arpaio is, to put it mildly, controversial. He was recently pardoned by President Trump for contempt of court, he’s publicly questioned whether President Obama’s birth certificate is real and he at one point forced prisoners to wear pink underwear (Jim Swift has more on Arpaio here).

And, oddly enough, his entry into the Republican primary might end up helping establishment-friendly Republicans.

Before Arpaio’s entry, the main contenders for the nomination were Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Kelli Ward. Ward, a Trump-aligned candidate who could be problematic in a general election, was leading McSally, a more mainstream Republican, 42 percent-34 percent, in a November survey from Republican pollster OH Predictive Insights.

But in a new OH Predictive Insights poll, McSally has a slim lead over Arpaio, 31 percent-29 percent. Ward was in third place with 25 percent of the vote.

In other words, these polls showed that McSally was having trouble putting Ward away by herself. But when the more Trump-friendly, anti-establishment vote is split between two candidates, McSally has a better shot of winning.

It’s worth noting that a three-way race doesn’t guarantee a McSally victory. The OHPI poll showed a very narrow lead for the congresswoman. And in the 2016 Republican primary, Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won a combined 72 percent of the vote. Obviously not every Trump and Cruz voter should be classified as “anti-establishment” or “Trump-y.” But it’s possible to imagine a scenario in which one anti-establishment candidate manages to win despite another candidate siphoning off some of his or her votes.

The fight between Arpaio, Ward, and McSally (and potentially other candidates) could have a significant effect on which party takes the senate in 2018. Ward, as noted previously, might not run as well as a generic candidate in a general election. Plus, Arpaio’s 2016 performance was weak. He lost his 2016 race by a significant margin while Trump won Maricopa County. And, as J. Miles Coleman points out, a plurality of precincts in Maricopa County voted for both John McCain and Arpaio’s opponent in 2016.

In other words, center-right Republicans shouldn’t celebrate prematurely. It’s possible that Arpaio’s entry into the race will allow Republicans to dodge a bullet by nominating McSally. But Arpaio might still win, saddling the GOP with a highly problematic candidate in a key race.

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This post was originally published on Real Clear Politics.

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