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Game of Votes: How the Maverick McCain can avoid losing his throne

Republican Senator John McCain addresses Arizona State University students and media members in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Downtown Phoenix on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. This lecture, titled the "America and the New Century" is part of Cronkite's "Iconic Voices" series.
Republican Senator John McCain addresses Arizona State University students and media members in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Downtown Phoenix on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. This lecture, titled the "America and the New Century" is part of Cronkite's "Iconic Voices" series.

Congratulations Sen. John McCain, you survived the primary battle against an unexpected challenger, but the worst is yet to come.

Recent polls have him up by an average of eight points over Democratic challenger, Ann Kirkpatrick, but that's a lot tighter of a race than you may think.

The margin of error on those polls is roughly five points, which means in the worst case scenario McCain could really only lead by three.

"It's still very possible that McCain could lose," said Dave Wells, ASU political science professor. "Is it likely? No. But anything can happen."

If Arizona is considered a "safely Red" state and a 30 year veteran Republican Senator like McCain is in real danger of losing his seat to a Democrat, then he may want Millennials to take notice and support him.

As a Millennial voter myself, I am one out of many first-time voters who are looking to keep moderates like McCain in office and avoid a polarized Congress. So essentially, those seeking bipartisanship are McCain's best friends.

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If Hillary Clinton is elected president, which looks likely, then it is likely the Senate will also go blue. So it’s going to be all hands on deck for Republicans if they want to hold the majority.

Although the most common conception is that easily winning a primary translates to an easy victory for that candidate in November, it's never the case even in a traditionally Republican state like Arizona.

I think Sen. McCain will win but only if he manages these three key factors correctly when facing his Democratic opponent over the next 70 days:

Be prepared for more age attacks.

Sen. McCain just turned 80 years old on Monday and even though I don’t know the details of his well-being, his health and age are still fair game.

All he has to do is not let it dominate the news cycle. He can't let it become a big deal because it's not. So he just needs to ignore it and make sure voters care about the issues instead of his age.

Age and health attacks didn’t work for his primary challenger, Kelli Ward, and they won’t work for Kirkpatrick if he doesn’t let them.

Wear the RINO badge proudly.

Tea Partiers and radical Republicans want to crucify McCain for being part of the "Gang of Eight" and becoming more moderate on his stances. They call him a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and attack him for what they see as joining the other side on bipartisan solutions.

There's nothing wrong with being bipartisan, especially in what has been called the most polarized congress in history. McCain earned his nickname, The Maverick, for being bipartisan and sparked a generation of 'Maverick' politicians who wanted to be more bipartisan.

By embracing that name he embraces the fact that swing voters want a bipartisan candidate. No Democrat or Republican can make him look bad for wanting to reach across the aisle and actually solve issues.

McCain must proudly proclaim himself as the bipartisan candidate that not only Arizona, but the country, needs.

Do not go negative first.

The unspoken rule in campaigning is that whoever goes negative first, whether it’s in ads or in the press, has already lost the election.

If McCain decides to attack his opponent first, then he’s admitting he’s scared of them and looks desperate for attention and coverage. Instead, he needs to make himself look good without making Kirkpatrick look bad.

He needs to stay confident and keep his supporters confident that he’s truly representing Arizona. He needs to convince them that he's going to continue to benefit the state and the country.

Sen. McCain can win this election in landslide fashion if he plays his cards right, otherwise Kirkpatrick has a good chance to exploit his mistakes and change a lot of minds really fast.


Reach the columnist at abundy@asu.edu or follow @abkbundy on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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