PHOENIX — Sen. John McCain held his seat in the Senate for nearly 32 years. After McCain’s death Saturday, it will fall to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to name his successor.
State law gives Ducey, a Republican, the power to fill the Senate vacancy for the next two years, until a special election is held in 2020 to select a person to complete the final two years of McCain’s term. The seat will then be up again for a full six-year term in the 2022 election. Arizona law also stipulates that the appointee must be from McCain’s party.
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Ducey has avoided any discussion in recent months about which Republican he might appoint to fill McCain’s seat, citing respect for the senator and his family.
“Out of respect for the life and legacy of Senator John McCain and his family, Governor Ducey will not be making any announcements about an appointment until after the Senator is laid to rest,” said Daniel Ruiz, a spokesman for Ducey.
The governor released a lengthy statement Saturday praising McCain as an “icon” and “American hero.”
“Here at home, we were most proud to call him a fellow Arizonan,” said Ducey. “Like so many of us, he was not born here, but his spirit, service and fierce independence shaped the state with which he became synonymous.”
The name most widely cited as a potential appointee is Cindy McCain, the senator’s widow. Ducey and his wife spent time with the McCains in May, which fueled speculation about a potential appointment.
The Arizona Republic on Friday also cited as potential appointees Kirk Adams, the governor’s chief of staff and a former state lawmaker; Barbara Barrett, a businesswoman and former gubernatorial candidate; and former Sen. Jon Kyl, who retired from the Senate in 2013.
The newspaper also cited as potential choices former Reps. Matt Salmon and John Shadegg; Karrin Taylor Robson, who serves on the state board of regents; and Eileen Klein, whom Ducey appointed as state treasurer earlier this year.
Ducey, who is running for reelection this fall, has ruled out appointing himself to the seat. The governor has also eliminated others from contention: Ducey and his office have criticized speculation about replacements multiple times this year, and Ducey singled out people actively campaigning for an appointment with a furious rebuke at the end of last year.
“To the politicians out there that have been openly lobbying for this position, they’ve basically disqualified themselves by showing their true character,” Ducey told a local radio station in December.
That month, Rep. Paul Gosar’s chief of staff sent a text to a member of Ducey’s staff last expressing interest in a potential appointment, The Arizona Republic later reported.
Few in Arizona or Washington have openly discussed the topic of McCain’s replacement while the senator underwent treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer.
When the topic was broached, the politics of it were particularly fraught. Ken Bennett, the former secretary of state who is challenging Ducey in next week’s gubernatorial primary, tweeted earlier this year that he promised not to appoint McCain’s wife to the seat. Ducey told a local radio station at the time the comments were “indecent, embarrassing.”
Bennett has returned to the subject multiple times since the original statement. He tweeted Saturday morning — prior to McCain’s death — that Ducey had still not committed not to appoint Cindy McCain, which he called a “lack of leadership.”