Three big political players were facing stiff competition and angry bases.
And all three brushed those opponents aside with relative ease Tuesday night.
Arizona’s John McCain, Florida’s Marco Rubio and embattled former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz all won their parties nominations to be elected for another term in Congress.
That despite millions of dollars spent against their candidacies by upstarts, some deep pocketed, fueled by anger at politics as usual. But that seemed to fizzle when the votes came in.
It once again shows the power of the incumbency. Money and familiarity can be high hurdles to overcome. Now, as McCain and Rubio seek reelection, they have a hurdle of their own — Donald Trump. McCain and Rubio are favored to win reelection and are not considered the highest-tier targets for Democrats, who, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, would need to pick up four seats to take back control of the Senate.
But they are potentially vulnerable if the presidential election turns into a landslide. Arizona, with its sizable Latino population, has become more of a competitive presidential battleground given Trump’s rhetoric. McCain is girding for the “race of his life,” saying in May that Trump could damage his reelection chances.
Florida is a competitive presidential race, with an edge to Clinton, but Rubio’s candidacy gave Republicans a shot in the arm to hold that Senate seat. He starts as the favorite against Congressman Patrick Murphy, who won his Democratic primary against Rep. Alan Grayson. Rubio has been performing better against Murphy than Trump has against Clinton. He’ll have to do that to win if Trump loses Florida.
Democrats are hoping a high enough wave could carry Murphy into the Senate, but Florida and Arizona would be icing on the cake for Democrats. They are on offense in more than enough states right now — 10 — to be on track to take back the Senate. Republicans are challenging in just one (Nevada).
McCain, who turned 80 on Monday and called this the “race of his life,” was up by 17 points at midnight, two hours after polls closed, with 35 percent of precincts reporting. His opponent, Kelli Ward, came at Trump from his right on immigration. McCain led the immigration reform charge in 2007. It practically derailed his 2008 presidential candidacy.
McCain, seeking his sixth term, now faces off in what’s expected to be a tough general-election matchup this fall against Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. She ran uncontested in the primary, and Democrats are excited about her candidacy. Even Republicans say Kirkpatrick could be a formidable candidate.
Rubio defeated a wealthy Trump-like supporter who poured millions of his own money into the race. That sets up another key Senate race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. Rubio will face Democrat Patrick Murphy, who also easily won his primary against controversial Congressman Alan Grayson.
Rubio won 72-19 percent with 99 percent in over developer Carlos Beruff, who spent more than $8 million of his own money on the race. Congressman Murphy also appears to have easily defeated Rep. Alan Grayson. Murphy won 59-18 percent with 99 percent in.
Rubio had promised not to seek reelection, but after his failed presidential run, he reconsidered. It was a top pick-up opportunity for Democrats in their quest to take back the Senate — until Rubio was convinced to reverse course.
Rubio’s decision came two days before the filing deadline. That happened to be the same day a local CBS Miami affiliate published a bombshell report about Murphy’s past. It showed the 33-year-old, whose father owns a multimillion-dollar construction company, embellished his business record and academic credentials.
Despite all that, the Democratic establishment worked for Murphy over Grayson. That’s because Grayson’s problems ranged from having a fund set up in the Cayman Islands in order to solicit funds from foreign investors to his ex-wife accusing him of domestic abuse.
Grayson might have been hoping he wouldn’t be straying too far from Capitol Hill even if he lost. That’s because his new wife, Dena Grayson, whom he married in May, was vying to replace her husband in Congress. But she lost, finishing third to Darren Soto.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
The embattled former Democratic National Committee chairwoman defeated a political novice backed by Bernie Sanders and funded by his supporters. The incumbent congresswoman held off college professor Tim Canova, 57-43 percent.
Wasserman Schultz stepped down from the DNC near the start of the Democratic National Convention this summer after an email hack fueled criticism that she was favoring Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the presidential primary process.
Clinton, who won this district by 40 points during the Democratic primary, made an appearance with Wasserman Schultz in August in an effort to boost her reelection.
Canova benefited from millions poured into his campaign by disaffected Sanders supporters, but it was not enough in a district where Wasserman Schultz is very well known, having been in this seat for more than a decade.