All the political pundits agree that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., faces the biggest challenge of his political career trying to get re-elected to a sixth term in the U.S. Senate.
In a year when Washington insiders and career politicians are running for cover, McCain figures to be dead meat, right?
Not so fast, say some.
He has one thing in his favor. Well, two things, actually.
Number one is name recognition. Approximately 99 percent of Arizonans are familiar with the name John McCain. That could cut both ways. But in the year of the “outsider,” it may hurt him as much as it helps him.
More important is the issue of vote fragmentation. Heading toward the Aug. 30 primary, anti-establishment Republicans in Arizona will need to agree on whom to rally around as the strongest challenger to McCain.
By fragmenting the opposition to McCain, only McCain benefits.
McCain is being challenged in the primary by Dr. Kelli Ward, a former state senator and physician, and entrepreneur Alex Meluskey, who runs a printing business in Scottsdale but has never run for political office until now.
Meluskey, who is lagging in the polls, just released a blistering new TV ad that hits McCain hard for his support for Syrian refugees, 97 percent of whom are Sunni Muslims and whom the FBI says are virtually impossible to screen for security risks.
The ad describes the attack by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, when he killed 13 fellow soldiers in a jihad attack that was originally called “workplace violence” by the Obama Justice Department.
It then switches to McCain, who famously traveled to Syria in 2013 to meet with Sunni rebels seeking to bring down Syrian President Bashur Assad.
“I’m saying that there are some refugees that I think we could take into this country,” McCain says in the ad. The host then asks McCain who would vet the refugees, to which McCain answered, “Well, first of all, I’d vet a number of them because I know them.”
Yet Hasan was an American citizen, a doctor and a U.S. Army major and nobody saw the attack coming, the ad points out.
“If we can’t vet him how do you expect to vet these refugees?” the narrator concludes.
President Obama is bringing 85,000 foreign refugees to America in fiscal 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. Roughly half of those will come from Muslim-dominated areas of the Middle East and Africa. They are permanently resettled in more than 180 U.S. cities and towns by private agencies contracting with the federal government such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, International Rescue Committee, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Episcopal Migration Ministries, World Relief Corp. and Church World Services.
Congress fully funded Obama’s plan in the omnibus spending bill passed in December.
Watch Meluskey’s new TV ad below:
Meluskey told WND his ad will run statewide on cable TV stations such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
Is Meluskey working for McCain?
But some are accusing Meluskey of being a “spoiler candidate” who is actually in the race to help McCain win.
“While I would usually be happy to see anyone take issue with John McCain’s horrible record on immigration and refugee resettlement, the problem we face is we have too many challengers, and we believe at least one of them is an arranged spoiler,” says William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration or ALIPAC, which has endorsed Ward.
Gheen says McCain has benefited from the tactic before.
In his 2010 primary race, McCain benefited from what Gheen calls a “spoiler” on the ballot named Jim Deakin.
“We called for Deakin to drop out of the race. But he was on the ballot to help protect McCain from a strong challenge from Congressman J.D. Hayworth,” he said. Deakin was able to get 12 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Hayworth and 56 percent for McCain.
Favorite tactic of establishment Republicans
McCain’s longtime friend and ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, several years ago benefited from multiple spoiler candidates running against him in the South Carolina GOP primary.
“The strategy is to not only split up the incumbent opposition votes but to prevent support from coalescing around the strongest real candidate,” Gheen said.
“And in Arizona today, our strongest challenger endorsed by ALIPAC is Dr. Kelli Ward, and she is a true candidate,” Gheen said. “We know she is not a spoiler candidate, and she is also taking issue with McCain’s support for Marco Rubio’s amnesty bill.
“McCain is very likely to be re-elected despite the fact that over 80 percent of Arizonans are against amnesty and his corruption and lies are so overt, because there are multiple candidates opposing him,” Gheen said.
Meluskey strongly refuted Gheen’s claims that he is a McCain “plant” whose only goal is to fragment the GOP opposition to the five-term senator.
“Those people are 100 percent unequivocally incorrect. I’ve heard that I’m responsible for the Alamo too,” Meluskey told WND. “I was the first candidate to file, so I’m not really certain how I could be the plant. If it was just me and John McCain in the race now, I’d hands-down cream him. It’s impossible to launder or put money incorrectly, but if anyone actually looked at my history, my past, they’d know I have no connections with John McCain whatsoever.”
‘I have nothing to do with John McCain’
Meluskey’s one claim to political activism is that he is the state director in Arizona for the fair tax, which is a bill before Congress to repeal the 16th Amendment and shut down the IRS, replacing the federal income tax with a consumption tax.
“It’s the only tax I can see that our founders actually approved of,” he says. “So people saying I’m a McCain plant; that’s their own wishful thinking. I would say to a lie detector and before God that I have nothing to do with John McCain except that I want to retire him.”
WND attempted to reach Kelli Ward and reached her deputy campaign manager, Roger Galloway.
Listen to the interview:
Galloway said Ward is an osteopathic specialist who is married to a fellow physician and a colonel in the Air National Guard. The couple lives in Lake Havasu, Arizona.
“Frankly, it’s really kind of a two-person race,” Galloway said. “Alex, we don’t think he’s struggling to get the signatures he needs to get on the ballot. You’ve got to get a minimum of roughly 8,000 signatures. That’s a great deal of signatures to get in Arizona. We’re close to 17,000 right now. We could stop right now and take any challenge that would be put forward and know we’re getting on the ballot.”
Meluskey said this is also a false accusation.
“I have thousands of signatures. I’m not struggling at all. We all go out. We all collect signatures, and we have no doubt we’ll be able to double the amount that we need,” he said.
Meluskey endorsements include retired general
Meluskey said he has endorsements from Fox News military analyst Gen. Paul Vallely, former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin, and the family of the late former NRA President Joe Foss.
But Meluskey would not address his polling numbers when asked by WND about reports he was lagging behind McCain and Ward.
“We’re not seeing any traction with Alex; he’s not going around the state. He has a talk show on a local station, and his day job is a printer and that’s about all he’s done,” said Galloway. “He’s never shown any interest in running for office of any kind until now.”
But Meluskey insists he’s the only candidate who can beat both John McCain and Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who has focused much of her attention on the state’s Latino voters. A new Merrill Poll shows Kirkpatrick and McCain running in virtually a dead heat were they to meet in the general election.
“Let’s be honest: Right now it’s still early, and it’s all about name recognition. The election is five months from today on Aug. 30,” Meluskey said. “I was the first filed candidate, and I am the only candidate in this race that has pledged not to go against the people. If I stay in the race and it’s obvious I’m not polling very well by early to mid-August, I will drop. Let’s say it’s Aug. 20 and it’s obvious, I will drop out. The people need to know I’m here and I’m running for their seat. I challenge the Ward candidacy to make the same pledge. If she’s polling way behind, why won’t she take a pledge? If she becomes the stick in the wheel, why won’t she promise to get out?”
‘We need someone with backbone’
The ultimate goal, said Meluskey, is to get McCain replaced. But that shouldn’t be the only goal.
“The most important thing after that is to get someone in that seat who has a backbone and doesn’t just side with the Republican Party leadership but represents the voice of the people,” he said.
Gheen said he is neither convinced by Meluskey’s pledge to drop out in August if his poll numbers don’t improve nor by his impressive new TV ad on the perils of unchecked refugee resettlement.
“This ad is designed to protect McCain. This ad is designed to fool the voter and into thinking that Alex Meluskey is McCain’s real opponent, when that real opponent is Dr. Kelli Ward,” Gheen said. “Spoiler candidates always mimic the position of the real candidates like Kelli. She’s against illegal immigration and amnesty and refugees.”