Arizona Gov. Ducey faces high-wire act of choosing successor for McCain

Aug 27, 2018, 2:14 PM | Updated: 6:27 pm
(AP Photos)...
(AP Photos)
(AP Photos)

PHOENIX – The death of Sen. John McCain has put the spotlight on Gov. Doug Ducey – the man who will select the Arizona icon’s successor — in the thick of a re-election bid.

“This is quite possibly the most important decision Doug Ducey has made as governor. I know that’s weighing on him,” longtime Valley political analyst Stan Barnes told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona Morning News on Monday.

A Ducey spokesman said Sunday the governor would not name a replacement until sometime after McCain’s funeral, which has been scheduled for Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

He reiterated his stance on Monday while on with KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos.

“We’re going to take the appropriate amount of time this week and make certain that Arizona does its job,” Ducey said. “We believe he would certainly want what is going to happen in terms of the honor that is also going to be bestowed on him.

“But he would also say ‘we have a job to do and you are in an election cycle.’

McCain, who died Saturday at 81 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer, was in his sixth term in the Senate.

This is the first time in Arizona history a governor has needed to appoint a U.S. Senator.

Barnes said Ducey, a Republican like McCain, has to balance multiple geopolitical forces in making the choice.

“Will this person appointed be set to run in the future? Will this person be in the John McCain spirit of things or in the new Donald Trump spirit of things?” Barnes asked.

“And how will that impact the governor’s own popularity as he is on the doorstep of a general election?”

Ducey is the heavy favorite over challenger Ken Bennett in Tuesday’s GOP primary but is expected to face a tough challenge from the Democratic nominee in November’s general election.

On Monday, Ducey received an endorsement from Trump, a bitter rival of McCain.

If Ducey’s appointment wants to be more than a placeholder, he or she will have to run in 2020, when voters will choose a candidate to serve through the remainder of McCain’s term in 2022.

Among the names being floated as potential successors are state political stalwarts Jon Kyl, who was McCain’s U.S. Senate partner from 1995 to 2013, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg.

Kyl, appearing Monday on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes, wouldn’t comment on his potential candidacy but praised Ducey for the way he is handling the situation.

“I think Gov. Ducey is absolutely right,” he said. “Until John McCain is laid to rest, let’s focus on him and not focus on some of the political things, even though this is a very important decision that the governor has to make, to be sure.”

Other candidates who have been mentioned in local and national media reports include former U.S. Ambassador to Finland Barbara Barrett, Arizona Treasurer Eileen Klein, Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams and Cindy McCain.

“The spouse of a deceased senator is always a consideration because it’s … someone who will be in the spirit of the person who was actually elected, but I think he [Ducey] would face resistance from the right,” Valley political expert and KTAR host Mike O’Neil told Arizona’s Morning News Monday.

The Wall Street Journal speculated that Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill and Karrin Taylor Robson, a Ducey appointee to the Arizona Board of Regents, could be in the mix.

Bidwill responded to the rumor while on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos Show on Monday, saying he wasn’t sure where the speculation came from and that is was not the time to focus on a successor.

The only thing known for sure is that the replacement will be from McCain’s party, as required by state law.

“The governor has been absolutely clear with everybody that he was not going to talk about it all while the senator was alive, and he still is allowing the process to take place of allowing the family time to mourn and grieve before we start having these conversations,” Chris Herring, Maricopa County Republican Party chairman, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Monday.

“Any names out there are not coming from the governor.”

Herring said Ducey hasn’t tipped his hand at all about whom his is considering.

“I do expect that next week we’re going to start getting more directly from the governor that’s going to clear this up,” he said.

Names that can be scratched off the list are those who expressed interest in replacing McCain while he was fighting cancer. In December, Ducey told KTAR News 92.3 FM that those people “basically disqualified themselves by showing their true character.”

He didn’t name names, but The Hill reported that former state Sen. Dr. Kelli Ward, a candidate for the U.S. Senate being vacated by Jeff Flake in Tuesday’s GOP primary, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and former Rep. Matt Salmon may have crossed that line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona Gov. Ducey faces high-wire act of choosing successor for McCain