The end result of the race for Arizona senate in the 2016 was no surprise as Senator John McCain was re-elected for the fifth consecutive time. This has been a position that Senator McCain has held since 1986, and he has achieved this feat with relative ease. This poll from CNN, shows Senator McCain’s victory with 53.4% of the vote. Representative Kirkpatrick only received 41.1% of the votes casted. In this election cycle, Senator McCain’s dominant incumbent status gave him significant advantages in funding, media coverage, and endorsements from the state and national level.
An extremely important difference between Senator McCain and Representative Kirkpatrick was the amount of funding each candidate had during the race or, in incumbent Senator McCain’s case, before the race started. In chapter 6 of Congressional Elections, Herrnson states “Senate incumbents’ most immediate advantage at the beginning of the election cycle is the funds already in their possession.” (Herrnson, pg. 196). Senator McCain started this race with more than $2,000,000 and Representative Kirkpatrick started with nothing. However, she ended up raising $8,468,556, but it was still not enough to match Senator McCain. Representative Kirkpatrick was no pushover despite her lack of funds. A good challenger will force an incumbent to spend money. (Crowder-Meyer. Nov.14, 2016). Senator McCain spent more than $11,000,000 in this race per stats taken by OpenSecrets.
This advantage in funds was important because it allowed Senator McCain to dominate in direct communication to voters. Senator McCain aired twice as many TV ads than Representative Kirkpatrick did, and he also used other methods of direct communication such as radio ads. Radio ads tend to reach around 80% of the public by themselves. (Overby & Barth, 2006). Direct communication was key for Senator McCain because it allowed him to precisely deliver the message in the manner that he wanted it. (Hayes. 2010. Ch.4). This proves the importance of being well funded, especially in high profile races.
Another factor that hurt Representative Kirkpatrick’s campaign was her serious lack of media coverage at the state or national level. This is important because she did not receive any mediated communication to disseminate her message to voters. (Hayes, pg. 53). Various prominent national news sources, such as The Washington Post, tended only to cover the negative relationship between President-elect Trump and Senator McCain. If Representative Kirkpatrick was mentioned, it was only a secondary topic in an article than was primarily about Senator McCain. The general strategy for Representative Kirkpatrick was to negatively associate Senator McCain with Trump however, Senator McCain redacted his endorsement of Trump. There was fear that this would hurt his campaign but given Senator McCain’s high profile status, he did not need the coattail of Trump. After the votes were counted, Senator McCain received a higher percentage of votes, proportionally, than Trump did in the presidential election.
Senator McCain dominated in the category of endorsements as well. Here, a list can be found of all the endorsements of both candidates. Representative Kirkpatrick only received nine notable endorsements compared to Senator McCain’s 26. The only major national endorsement Representative Endorsement Representative Kirkpatrick received was from Planned Parenthood. Senator McCain received several major national endorsements including the U.S Chamber of Commerce, National Border Patrol, National Right to Life Committee, and the National Federation of Independent Business. Senator McCain also received multiple endorsements from state level officials. These included endorsements from the current Governor of Arizona and the Maricopa County attorney.
Senator McCain benefitted from the many advantages of an incumbent in this election. The lack of funding and low name recognition combined with the lack of media coverage and endorsements give clear indicators as to why Representative Kirkpatrick was out-matched. Senator McCain has now defended his seat in the Senate five times, he has done so quite easily. He was well funded, and his relationship with Trump controlled the headlines of media coverage which helped him in the long run. Senator McCain was also well endorsed, and he used all these advantages to successfully secure his seat in the Senate.