MIAMI, Ariz. — Ann Kirkpatrick earned the title of John McCain’s toughest Democratic opponent ever through 15 months of preparation, eight years of grueling House races and a lot of luck with Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket.
But she’ll need all that and much, much more to pull off a stunner and unseat McCain.
Story Continued Below
With McCain victorious in his Tuesday primary, he now turns to face Kirkpatrick — a battle-tested, three-term House lawmaker. But though her centrist-leaning brand of politics is a good fit for a red state, her future will likely be decided by more sweeping forces. Namely, whether an anti-Trump wave materializes and Hillary Clinton wins a state that a Democrat hasn’t won since 1996.
With that in mind, Kirkpatrick repeatedly linked McCain to Trump in an interview with POLITICO after visiting a senior center in this hardscrabble mining town dotted with boarded-up storefronts.
“The biggest vulnerability I hear about John McCain is that he didn’t stand up to Trump when Trump insulted him. People are just saying: ‘If he doesn’t stand up for himself, he won’t stand up for us’,” Kirkpatrick says. “People just say ‘it’s time. It’s time.’”
Her opponent’s tenuous dance with Trump is the most powerful ammunition Kirkpatrick has against McCain, whose prominent bipartisan reputation includes rewriting campaign finance laws, championing immigration reform and supporting expanded background checks on gun purchases. Kirkpatrick was the first Senate candidate to explicitly link her opponent to Trump and it’s unlikely she’d be within striking distance without him.
Her path to denying McCain a sixth term was less clear when Kirkpatrick entered the race last May, as Trump toyed with a …