WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Two Washington rainmakers find themselves in make or break moments today as insurgent primary challengers try to knock them off their powerful perches.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) both entered this election cycle relatively strong, only to later find themselves facing primary opponents who pose real electoral threats.
Congress is notoriously unpopular. Its current approval rating is a whopping 18 percent.
But sitting D.C. legislators are surprisingly successful when it comes to having their own backs, winning approximately 95 percent of congressional re-election races.
Today’s two races could point to a termination or continuation of that trend.
McCain’s Sixth Term
John McCain, 80, survived five years as a Vietnam prisoner of war and triumphed in five back-to-back Senate bids.
Will he be able to hold on for a sixth term?
All signs point to yes.
McCain led opponent Dr. Kelli Ward by double-digits in the latest CNN poll of likely GOP voters. The longtime senator received 55 percent of support compared to Ward’s 29 percent.
But Ward is not going down without a fight.
Just last week, Ward, a physician by trade, told MSNBC that McCain has “gotten weak, he’s gotten old” and warned that as a professional, “I do know what happens to the body and the mind at the end of life.”
If McCain prevails, his sixth term would last through his 86th birthday.
Arizona uses an open primary system, meaning independents, who may lean toward a more moderate candidate like McCain, will be permitted to vote in his race.
In a theoretical general election November matchup against Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Real Clear Politics estimates that McCain would have an eight-point advantage.
The leader of the Democratic National Committee rarely finds themselves in a street fight for their own political survival — much less at the hands of a challenger from their own party.
But that is precisely where Debbie Wasserman Schultz stands today.
Tim Canova, backed by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is challenging the Florida congresswoman who’s been in office since 2005.
Following the suspected Russian hack of DNC emails, the contents of which indicated that party leaders aided Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and were devastatingly revealed just ahead of the Democratic National Convention in July, led to Wasserman Schultz’s ouster as her party’s leader.
Sanders pledged to oversee Wasserman Schultz’s demise and has followed through with great enthusiasm.
Supporters of the Democratic-Socialist senator followed suit with “a whopping $3.8 million dollars worth of Berniecrat anger at Wasserman Schultz,” reports NBC News.
Despite the big bucks and impassioned Sanders crowd, Wasserman Schultz is still projected to win today’s race.
A recent poll by the South Florida Sun Sentinel gave Wasserman Schultz a 10-point lead over Canova (50-40).
Significance for 2016
If both incumbents ultimately survive their primary challenges, it would be an encouraging sign for other lawmakers who feared being swept away in this unpredictable Year of Trump.
Freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also faces a primary today and is expected to win.
Voters clearly want change, but maybe not a complete sea change.
This trend would also be a welcome sign for Clinton, since her candidacy is widely seen as an extension of President Barack Obama’s progressive two terms, unlike Trump’s bulldoze-the-place campaign pitch.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales