"Poor Prognosis": What Happens If Sen. McCain Retires?

Created: 27 September, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read


Senator John McCain said on on CBS's "60 Minutes" Sunday that his brain cancer prognosis is "very, very serious." The Arizona Republican added that his doctors told him "it's a very poor prognosis," with a survival rate as low as 3 percent, or 14 percent in a best case scenario, according to some doctors.

Should McCain retire from the U.S. Senate soon, which is looking increasingly likely in light of his recent comments, the process in Arizona is for the state's governor to appoint a temporary replacement until Arizona's next general election (which will be in November 2018).

Then, it will be up to state voters to select a Senator to serve the rest of McCain's term.

Since he was just re-elected in 2016, whomever voters elect to succeed John McCain should he retire would serve nearly a full Senate term and enjoy a solid incumbent advantage if they run for re-election in 2022.

So under Arizona's procedures, the state's Republican Governor Doug Ducey, would choose McCain’s replacement, and is required by state law to choose someone from the vacating senator's own party.

Since Gov. Ducey is up for re-election in 2018, he is likely to make a cautious, politically uncontroversial pick.

People watching Arizona politics closely are saying Kelli Ward would be the most likely pick, because she already had voter approval with 39.2 percent of the vote in her primary challenge to John McCain. She’s also ready to mount another challenge to Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018.

Ward served in the Arizona State Senate from 2013 to 2015. She is considered a staunch conservative and would be a friend to the Trump administration if she was elected, meaning the president would have an additional vote in the upper chamber to count on.

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In a radio interview Monday, Ward urged McCain to waste no time in stepping aside and retiring from the U.S. Senate:

"I hope Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible, so that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward."

Later she posted a statement to her website with even stronger language, saying that McCain’s cancer is "both devastating and debilitating," and asserting that he "owes it to the people of Arizona to step aside" when his health becomes an impediment to being able to perform his public duties.

Ward's statements have been criticized as self-serving, opportunistic, and insensitive by some. She dismisses the criticisms as propagandistic, partisan-motivated attacks.

One radio host told Ward:

"I got to tell you, Dr. Ward. Have you no shame? I mean, I think this is low class. I think you’re kicking the man when he’s down, the week he’s diagnosed with brain cancer, with really what I believe is a despicable comment."

Ward isn't the only Republican to face criticism for the timing of her remarks. Joe Scarborough took Donald Trump to task Tuesday for attacking John McCain's opposition to the latest Republican health care bill:

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"You have no humanity. You have a man who is dying and you’re using him for political punch lines on talk radio and also in audiences in Alabama? And by the way, for people watching at home, if you’re in the audience and John McCain is getting attacked, and he’s fighting for his life — unless you were raised in a barn, keep your mouths shut. Show a little respect. Show a little dignity. Show a little class."

Though Scarborough's moralistic intonations notwithstanding, it is not unfair to say that as long as John McCain willingly chooses to remain an active and relevant force in the political sphere, and takes actions that have political consequences for the rest of us, that the certainly tragic circumstances of his terminal illness do not put him above political feedback or criticism.

Photo Credit: Christopher Halloran / shutterstock.com

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