How Arizona will fill John McCain’s seat — and who might fill it

As the nation mourns the death of John McCain, Arizona’s Republican governor must soon decide who will replace him in the Senate.

Under Arizona law, it’s up to Gov. Doug Ducey to fill Senate vacancies until a special election is held in 2020. He said in a statement that he would not name a successor until after McCain was buried later this week.

“Now is a time for remembering and honoring a consequential life well lived,” Ducey said in the statement.

In the year since McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer, Ducey — who faces a tough re-election race this year — has refused to talk about who he might appoint to the seat.

Now required to fill the vacancy, Ducey faces major questions that could steer his decision. Among them: Will he seek a placeholder who won’t run for re-election in 2020? And did McCain indicate who he’d like to fill the job?

Ducey must pick a member of the same political party as McCain, which means the seat will remain in GOP hands.

The governor has said he will not appoint himself.

Asked about potential McCain replacements, three Arizona Republicans pointed to Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams, as a leading potential choice.

Adams, a 45-year-old former state House speaker and congressional candidate, could run for re-election himself. Or he could play a role similar to former Florida Sen. George LeMieux — who then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed, only for LeMieux to step aside two years later when Crist ran for the Senate seat — if Ducey wants to run for the Senate seat in 2020.

Republicans also pointed to Karrin Taylor Robson, an Arizona Board of Regents member and real estate developer, who is well-liked by the GOP donor community, and Eileen Klein, a chief of staff for former Gov. Jan Brewer who Ducey appointed state treasurer in April.

Another option Arizona Republicans raised includes Cindy McCain, John McCain’s wife, who is also chairwoman of her family’s beer distribution business and an advocate against human trafficking who has filled in for her husband at public events at times after his diagnosis.

Ducey could also consider former Sen. Jon Kyl, whom he has called a mentor, and former Reps. John Shadegg and Matt Salmon, who has lobbied for Arizona State University since retiring from Congress after the 2016 election.

Because the vacancy occurred after the state’s cut-off date of May 30, the special election will take place in 2020, rather than 2018.

The winner of the special election will hold the seat for the remaining two years of McCain’s term. Then, in 2022, the seat will be on the ballot for a full six-year term.

The races are likely to be highly competitive. Arizona, once a ruby-red Republican stronghold, has moved leftward in recent years. The state’s race this year to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake is one of the nation’s marquee contests and is crucial to determining which party controls the Senate.