Caricature by DonkeyHotey flic.kr/p/Ct4G4K https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Arizona is turning out to be an unexpected battleground in 2018. The state will definitely select one, and more than likely two, new US senators. By new, I mean open races. This is a pretty rare event. And given what we saw in Alabama where a combination of Mitch McConnell playing some sort of cornpone Machiavelli, hubris, and downright dumbf***ery where a Trump +28 state can elect a Democrat to the Senate, Heaven only knows what could happen in a Trump +4 Arizona.

Until today, the race seemed to be between Martha McSally, a USAF veteran who represents AZ-2 in the House, and Kelli Ward, a former state senator who is backed by Steve Bannon. In current polling for the GOP primary, Ward slightly leads McSally, but about a third of the electorate is uncommitted to either. Both seem vulnerable to the Democrat candidate, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.

Did I mention until today?

How does this play out? That’s going to largely depend upon Trump. Trump has a soft spot for Arpaio. Arpaio was an early and vocal backer of Trump and Trump rewarded that obsequiousness with a pardon when Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for blowing off a court order on immigration enforcement. On the other hand, Trump has pledged to support “establishment” incumbents. McSally may or may not make the cut depending on how Trump decides to interpret this pledge.

IF Trump endorses McSally, Arpaio in the race probably guarantees her a primary victory. Arpaio’s natural voting base is much more like to be Kelli Ward supporters than McSally partisans. The fact that Ward is endorsed by Bannon and that particular tar baby is sticking to her, Arpaio’s candidacy has, in my opinion, effectively torpedoed her. In fact, one could nearly see McConnell recruiting Arpaio to run.

Having said that, we don’t know what Trump will do. If he decides to weigh in on behalf of Arpaio, the question becomes one of whether he can pull enough votes from Ward, or mobilize enough voters, to drag Arpaio across the finish line?

And, as always when you’re dealing with the NRSC, which you can virtually guarantee is going to enter this contest, just how scorched earth will they get and how much damage will they do to McSally in the primary by alienating Ward or Arpaio voters.

If this is a conventional primary and the GOP doesn’t burn its own house down, I think McSally has a better than 50-50 chance at holding Jeff Flake’s seat.

Then we can get ready for the real bloodbath that will take place when McCain’s seat opens and we might end up with a Ward-Arpaio rematch. With no safety net.