John McCain to return to U.S. Senate for sixth term

Republican Sen. John McCain defeated challenger Ann Kirkpatrick, winning a sixth term. (Photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — One-time presidential candidate and longtime Republican Sen. John McCain will return to serve Arizona for a sixth Congressional term, defeating one of his toughest opponents in years.

McCain, a conservative bastion of Arizona politics for more than three decades, led Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, 53 percent to 42 percent. He pulled away in early, preliminary results and never lost the lead against his Democratic opponent before the Associated Press declared McCain the winner with less than 50 percent of votes counted.

Supporters clapped and whistled as McCain and his wife, Cindy, strode across a stage at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

“I’m ready to get back to work for you,” said McCain, thanking Kirkpatrick for running a “spirited and honorable campaign.”

Kirkpatrick, the District 1 Congresswoman, thanked her supporters at a Democratic watch party in downtown Phoenix.

McCain told his supporters Tuesday night that he heard a message from voters: “Americans want progress now.”

He promised to “extend an open hand” to the new president and work with Congressional colleagues on “both sides of the aisle.”

Marie Unterreiner, 80, was happy.

“I’ve known Senator John McCain since 2000. I think he deserves it.” Unterreiner said.

McCain first ran for Congress in 1982 and has been the face of Arizonan politics for 34 years. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008, losing to President Obama.

McCain has completed five six-year terms as a U.S. senator, two terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, led his party as the 2008 Republican nominee for president and has been highly lauded for his heroism in war.

That is, except for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who once made fun of McCain for being captured as a prisoner of war.

McCain made an early, lukewarm embrace of Trump before repudiating him late in the race after Trump was accused of sexually assaulting women.

Still, the senator stayed true to his conservative bonafides, lashing out at the Affordable Care Act, derisively called “Obamacare,” joining Republican colleagues in blocking Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and calling Hillary Clinton unfit for the presidency.

“Hillary Clinton has just told lies after lies,” he said at an October Senate debate sponsored by Arizona PBS and The Arizona Republic,”Hillary Clinton, I believe, has disqualified herself to be president of the United States.”

Kirkpatrick’s campaign criticized McCain in a statement for toggling back and forth on Trump.

The two candidates also traded jabs during the debate over the Affordable Care Act.

Both candidates stood divided over issues of immigration and a Republican-led gridlocked of a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

McCain has said he would work to block any Supreme Court nominee if Clinton is elected president. Clinton and Trump were locked in a tight electoral ballot Tuesday night.

McCain has often campaigned on a physically tangible form of immigration reform. In his 2010 bid for the presidency, McCain said the country needed a “danged fence.”

But In 2013, he joined the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” and co-sponsored a bill which would have built more of a fence along the border and provided a path for citizenship to undocumented immigrants — something opponents ultimately labeled as a plan for amnesty.

Polls in early October, including an Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News Poll conducted from Oct. 10-15, showed McCain leading by 11.5 percent. Days before the election, an NBC News poll showed McCain leading by 16 percentage points.