Ray Russell, who provided a serious challenge to John McCain in the future senator’s first political campaign, died Aug. 9 at the age of 80.
Russell, a veterinarian who was active in the Boy Scouts and various local and state civic organizations, finished second to McCain in 1982 in a four-way Republican primary in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. The seat was vacated by longtime Congressman John Rhodes, who was retiring after 30 years in office.
McCain won the primary with 15,363 votes; Russell was second with 12,500 votes; Jim Mack, a state senator, had 10,675 votes, and Donna Carlson-West, a member of the state House, trailed with 9,736 votes. McCain went on to win the general election, handily defeating Democrat Bill Hegarty by a 2-1 margin, was re-elected in 1984, and won his first of five Senate terms in 1986.
Russell, who later served as president of ExecuTrends, Executive Education and Leadership, and was a member of the National Speakers Association, conducted a low-key campaign and at times sounded like a preacher.
Because all four candidates were trying to come across as being the most conservative, taking similar right-wing positions, a newspaper article at the time stated that if the four GOP candidates in the 1st Congressional District had been a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll group they would have been known as “Donna and the Monotones.”