On Tuesday, voters in Florida and Arizona head to the polls to cast their ballots in congressional primaries. Republican candidates Marco Rubio and John McCain are likely to win their primaries, but going forward, they face tough competition in November, due to a voter base fractured by pro- and anti-Trump sentiments. The senators have tried to navigate this tension delicately, which has resulted in a rather awkward back-and-forth between speaking out against Donald Trump's various controversies and endorsing the candidate (albeit tepidly). At this point, failure to take a firm stance on either side could hurt them just as much as a refusal to do so.
Rubio decided to run for reelection in June, three months after his home state of Florida voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the primary, tanking the senator's bid for the Republican presidential nomination. After he entered the senatorial race, most of his low-profile contenders dropped out. The remaining Republican candidate, Carlos Beruff, was behind Rubio some 39 points in a recent poll, NBC News reported. But Rubio's margin is much tighter in polls against his likely Democratic challenger in November, Patrick Murphy, with Rubio holding a 5.7-point lead, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.
McCain is a full 36 points ahead of his main primary challenger, Kelli Ward, in a recent CNN poll. However, his 55 percent overall support among likely primary voters isn't exactly a comfortable majority for the senator, who has held his position since 1987. Real Clear Politics puts McCain ahead of his likely Democratic challenger, Ann Kirkpatrick, by an average of eight points in three recent polls. However, a Public Policy Polling survey from June found he was only two points ahead.
Rubio and McCain both have extremely tense relationships with Trump, though they have toed the party line and officially endorsed him. McCain has been outspoken about his disdain for some of the candidate's proposals and actions. Most recently, he publicly denounced Trump's sparring with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed while serving in Iraq and who spoke about their experiences at the Democratic National Convention. Rubio and Trump viciously attacked one another throughout the Republican primaries, a war of words that ranged from serious policy critiques to penis jokes. And now the two senators are seeking reelection in states where Trump won the primaries by wide margins.
On the other hand, failing to disavow the candidate and revoke their endorsements could hurt them among would-be Republican voters who, out of protest for their party's presidential nominee, might stay home on Election Day. I can bet that Rubio's and McCain's Democratic challengers will use the Republicans senators' seeming lack of resolve as campaign fodder.
McCain and Rubio are, to put it succinctly, between a rock and a hard place. The entire Republican establishment has had to grapple with the party's identity and where to stand, but these two senators are among those feeling the unique pressures of this election season the most.