Woods supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president and said he has been troubled by Trump in recent years. McCain’s death has led him to consider “whether I need to step up at this point in time,” he said.
“What’s changed for me is the passing of John McCain,” said Woods, who delivered a eulogy for the late senator last week. “It’s challenging for me be so involved in everything that we did to honor him over the last week and then think of staying on the sidelines as we face a world without John McCain.”
The New York Times first reported Tuesday that Woods, who was McCain’s chief of staff when he served in the House, was talking to Democrats about a potential run.
The future of McCain’s seat is in doubt. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed fellow Republican Jon Kyl to succeed McCain. But Kyl, who was sworn in Wednesday, has only committed to serving through at least the end of this Congress. He previously served in the Senate from 1995 until 2013 and does not want to pursue a long-term return to Congress.
Arizona voters will get to decide who should fill McCain’s former seat in the 2020 election and then again in 2022.
Woods said he spoke to Schumer briefly about a potential run at a memorial service for McCain in Washington last week. A representative for Schumer declined to comment. Woods said that what Schumer ultimately thinks about him running will be factor in his decision.
Woods said he has spoken to other Democratic senators about the idea as well, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Tom Udall of New Mexico. Like Woods, Heitkamp served as state attorney general. Heitkamp responded with a statement calling Woods “a centrist, a dear friend, and someone I worked very closely with” as a state attorney general. “The Senate needs more public servants like him,” Heitkamp added.
McCain, who served 35 years in Congress, died Aug. 25 after battling brain cancer.
Democrats are eagerly contesting Arizona’s other Senate seat this year. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) is in a competitive race against Rep. Martha McSally (R) for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.
Democrats view the Arizona race as one of their best chances to flip a seat from red to blue, as they seek to take back control of the Senate. Although Arizona has been a reliably Republican state, demographic trends have raised Democratic hopes of winning there in November and in future statewide elections.
Woods could encounter difficulties in a Democratic primary, given his long-standing ties to the Republican Party. For now, he says he is in no rush to decide what he will do.
But he is ruling out running as a Republican — as long as the GOP is dominated by Trump, whom he does not expect to change any time soon.
“I’m not going to hold my breath on Trump because I’m not going to pass out,” Woods said.