Days after he renounced his endorsement of Republican Donald Trump over a 2005 tape of the presidential candidate making lewd remarks about women, Arizona Sen. John McCain moved Wednesday to bolster his standing with female voters.
McCain, who faced heavy criticism from women's groups and his Democratic challenger for continuing to back Trump for months, announced a newly formed coalition of more than 100 female supporters.
The 80-year-old senator addressed a gathering of about 30 politically connected women in Scottsdale less than a month before voters decide whether to elect him for a sixth Senate term.
"This is a tough campaign and I'm not taking anything for granted," he told them.
Challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and other Democrats have criticized McCain for months for sticking with Trump despite the nominee's long-term series of vulgar statements concerning various women.
At a separate news conference Wednesday, Katherine Spillar of the Feminist Majority said McCain had plenty of reasons to disavow Trump earlier because of his long history of "derogatory and demeaning commentary on women." She said his creation of a women's coalition shows he thinks the Trump issue has hurt him with women voters.
"I think the reason he has now turned on Mr. Trump is that he must have polling showing that he's losing among the women voters and he is desperately trying to get them back in his corner," Spillar said. "I hope the women here in Arizona will remember his record on women's rights, on access to contraception, on pay equality. He has had an abysmal record and has supported justices for the Supreme Court who have pledged to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Women who joined McCain at the event said he was in a tough spot with Trump and made the break when he had to.
Lisa Graham Keegan, a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, said Republican Party insiders with doubts about Trump have been struggling with the thought of breaking from party loyalty.
"And John McCain is a loyal guy," said Keegan, a member of McCain's coalition. "I think the senator was in a sense like a lot of us - looking for `was this person going to mature, is there something we don't know about this person, is he better than we think'?
"The answer is no, he's not, and let's move on," she said.
McCain spoke to the women for about 10 minutes, delivering a standard stump speech that covered Arizona issues he promotes, his concern for the state of international affairs and criticism of President Barack Obama's leadership.
He quickly left the event, declining to stop and answer questions from an Associated Press reporter about the timing of the women's coalition's creation.