McCain laughs off idea of Palin primary challenge

U.S. Sen. John McCain is anticipating a possible primary challenge as he prepares to seek a sixth term in 2016, but he said Friday he is confident it won’t come from his former running mate Sarah Palin.

McCain, R-Ariz., is expected to officially announce his re-election bid after the first of the year. The New York Times reported Nov. 25 that national “tea party” leaders consider Palin, a former Alaska governor, “their fantasy candidate” to run against McCain in Arizona’s Republican Senate primary and hope to persuade her to do so. McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, is deemed too moderate or liberal by many far-right conservatives.

“Oh, that’s foolish,” McCain told The Arizona Republic when asked about the talk of a rival Palin candidacy. “Sarah and I have maintained a very close and warm relationship. That’s just not in the realm of possibility.”

Palin has lived part-time in Scottsdale since 2011 and was mentioned as a possible Senate candidate after U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., announced he would not seek re-election in 2012. But the idea that Palin would take on McCain, who lifted her from obscurity by tapping her as his vice-presidential candidate, is somewhat far-fetched given that she campaigned on behalf of McCain’s 2010 re-election and publicly came to McCain’s defense this year after he was formally censured by the Arizona Republican Party.

Palin has not responded to The Republic‘s requests for comment made through her SarahPAC political action committee.

“I know that they will do everything they can to recruit somebody, but I can promise you it’s not Sarah Palin,” McCain said.

McCain is continuing to hold off on announcing his 2016 intentions until next month as the earliest even though at this point little suspense remains.

“It’s going to be a cliffhanger,” he joked.

In other developments:

— McCain is opposing President Barack Obama’s effort to normalize relations with communist Cuba at least partly based on his personal experience.

A former U.S. Navy pilot, McCain was on duty aboard the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear aircraft carrier, off the coast of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Later, McCain was shot down and held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He remembers Cuban interrogators helping his North Vietnamese captors.

“I believe there were three (Cubans) who interrogated some of our prisoners,” McCain recalled to The Republic. “I was not one of them. But they were very cruel.”

Mostly though, McCain suggested Obama’s policy shift toward Cuba is a bad deal, even though it resulted in the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, because the United States isn’t demanding any improvement in human rights or other concessions from Cuban leaders Raul and Fidel Castro.

“We’ve been waiting for those two guys (the Castro brothers) to die for about 40 years,” McCain said. “Some time, they’ve got to die, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to transition to democracy. Because it’s their communist cronies who run Cuba.”

— U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who supports Obama’s move on Cuba, said he likely will offer additional legislation in the new Republican-controlled Congress to further dismantle the U.S. embargo against Cuba, although he acknowledged the prospects for passage would be slim.

Flake said sanctions such as the tourism ban hurt Americans by crimping their liberty and actually help the Castros by giving them “a scapegoat for all their failures of socialism.”

“Why should we get a concession for allowing Americans the freedom to travel,” asked Flake, who like McCain sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This restriction isn’t on Cubans, it’s on Americans.”

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he was “thrilled” that Gross was back in the United States but joined critics who argue that the Obama administration is rewarding a brutal Cuban regime that traditionally has repressed its people and jailed dissidents.

“This move sends a message to every rogue government and terrorist organization that this administration is willing to negotiate with them, even if it undercuts U.S. interests and values,” Salmon said in a written statement. “This puts a price on the head of every U.S. citizen.”

Nowicki is The Republic’s national political reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @dannowicki and on his official Facebook page.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/azdc/2014/12/20/mccain-laughs-off-sarah-palin-arizona-senate-primary-rival/20670367/