RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is a presidential election year like no other, as we keep hearing, and it could turn out to be a pretty big year in congressional politics too. Voters go to the polls today in Florida and Arizona to nominate candidates in two of the year's most competitive Senate races. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis is here to give us a preview of these primaries. Good morning.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start in Arizona where John McCain is seeking a sixth term in the Senate, and he's facing, for him, something of a competitive primary race, isn't he?
DAVIS: He is. You know, McCain is favored to win his primary today. He's facing a challenge from former state Senator Kelli Ward, who has run at him from his right. In the closing weeks of the campaign, she's run a really aggressive campaign. She's called McCain old and weak. He turned 80 yesterday, so that his age has been an issue in this campaign. Although making age an issue in a state where many of the voters are retirees is not always the best strategy. So he is favored to win.
He's going to face Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in the general election. And, you know, as you said, this is going to be a tough race for McCain. He's in a very difficult position where he needs to not alienate all of these Trump voters who elected Trump in the presidential primary there but maintain enough of that McCain mainstream appeal to win swing voters in November.
This is going to be one of the more competitive Senate races. It's also a bit of a firewall for Republicans. They really need McCain to win if they have a chance to hold onto the Senate. If he loses, there is no doubt that Republicans are losing the Senate.
MONTAGNE: Oh, well, so turning to Florida, there's Marco Rubio, and he, of course, had repeatedly said he was giving up his Senate seat. But after losing his shot at a presidential run, Rubio changed his mind, which, I gather, energized Republicans fighting to keep control of the Senate.
MONTAGNE: So how's he doing?
DAVIS: He's doing well. You know, he decided, as you said, he wanted his job back after all. And when he got back in, it got most of the Republicans out of that primary except for a wealthy businessman named Carlos Beruff, who has also challenged Rubio from the right. The problem that Beruff has is that Rubio has been endorsed by Donald Trump, and he's been endorsed by many tea party groups. So that really took a lot of oxygen out of his campaign. Rubio is going to - you know, on the Democratic side, they also have a primary today.
There's two congressmen facing each other. The favored is Patrick Murphy over Alan Grayson. Grayson has faced a number of ethical challenges, and Democratic Party leaders do not want him to win the nomination. Murphy's favored. A Rubio-Murphy race would be one of the most competitive races this fall. As of right now, Rubio's running a little bit ahead of Murphy, but this is going to be a top Senate race.
MONTAGNE: And there's another high-profile Democratic race in Florida. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was recently pushed out as Democratic National Committee chairwoman, she is facing a serious challenge from a more liberal rival who is aligned or was aligned with Bernie Sanders. Does her challenger have a chance?
DAVIS: Probably not, but this race has become more about a proxy war between the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders divide in the Democratic Party. As you said, she's angered many progressive activists who have flooded this race and helped her opponent raise $3 million. Her opponent is a guy named Tim Canova. He's a political newcomer. He's never run for office before, and he's got a lot of buzz.
But the reality is this district still heavily favors the incumbent. It's an older district. It's a whiter district. It has a high, sizable Jewish population that Wasserman Schultz has remained incredibly close to. And this is a district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 40 points in the March presidential primary. So this is still a place that is reflective of her and her district, and she's favored to win. And if she loses, it would probably be the biggest upset of the year.
MONTAGNE: OK. Well, lots to keep an eye on today. Susan, thanks very much.
DAVIS: Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis.
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