With the death of John McCain, Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey now becomes the most pivotal person in determining the direction of the Senate—at least for a couple months. Ducey is charged with naming McCain’s replacement, a choice among the type of populist conservative who’d be the antithesis of McCain, or a more conciliatory and independent Republican like McCain or Jeff Flake, or a caretaker who could hold the seat for two years until a wider field slugs it out in a special election in 2020.
Ducey’s office said over the weekend that it would not announce a pick until after McCain’s funeral Sunday. Since McCain was an occasional opponent of the president’s agenda in the Senate and then, after returning to Arizona for treatment of his brain cancer, was a functional no vote on everything from routine legislation to nominations, Ducey could help shift a narrowly divided Senate—with GOP moderates like Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, and Lisa Murkowski at its fulcrum—more securely to the right.
One obvious choice for Arizona’s Republicans and the state as a whole would be Ducey himself. The 54-year-old former state treasurer beat his Democratic gubernatorial opponent by 12 points in 2014. Ducey said, however, that he would pick someone else. One strategy floated by CNN is that Ducey could choose his chief of staff, Kirk Adams, as a seat warmer and then run himself in 2020.
Other caretaker choices—along a similar model to Joe Biden’s longtime staffer and adviser Ted Kaufman taking Biden’s seat in 2009—could be former Sen. Jon Kyl or even McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain.
But it’s not at all clear if any of these three would be interested or would hold any advantage in the 2020 special election, to say nothing of prospects for the 2022 election for the seat’s next six-year term. Other rumored choices, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper, include former Reps. John Shadegg and Matt Salmon, businesswoman Barbara Barrett, real estate strategist Karrin Taylor Robson, and Arizona state Treasurer Eileen Klein.
The makeup of Arizona’s Senate delegation was already up in the air before McCain’s death. With Flake, a frequent Trump critic, not running for re-election this year, the primary to replace him pits two pro-Trump, hard-right conservatives—former state Sen. Kelli Ward and pardoned former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio—against each other and the establishment’s pick, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally. This year’s race indicates that no matter whom Ducey picks for McCain’s seat, a similar fight is likely to continue within the Arizona Republican Party two more times over the next four years.