Rep. Martha McSally announced on Friday that she will run for Senate in Arizona, giving Republicans a top-tier recruit in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake.
McSally made the announcement in a short video posted to YouTube and has a series of events planned across the state later in the day — including two at airplane hangars in Phoenix and Tucson that promise to make heavy reference to her biography as the first woman to be an Air Force combat pilot.
The second-term congresswoman is the second GOP candidate to declare for the seat this week, joining former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Donald Trump last year after his conviction for ignoring court orders while sheriff. Kelli Ward — the state lawmaker who unsuccessfully primaried Sen. John McCain from the right in 2016 — is also in the race.
Despite McSally’s stature in Washington — and her heavy recruitment by GOP leaders — she is not a guaranteed front-runner for the party’s nomination. Her internal polling before Arpaio’s entry showed her only running neck-and-neck with Ward, and a flash survey after Arpaio’s announcement this week showed the three candidates all running between 25 percent and 31 percent.
Trump has not weighed in on the race — the primary isn’t until late August — except to express opposition to Flake until the first-term senator announced last fall he wouldn’t run for reelection. Trump has praised both Arpaio and Ward in the past, and met with Ward last year on a visit to the state before Flake’s retirement announcement.
But McSally’s video seeks to reassure GOP primary voters that she is in the president’s corner, too. The video shows Trump at a previous event, flanked by military personnel, commending McSally.
“My friend, Martha McSally, she’s the real deal. … She’s tough,” Trump says in comments spliced together.
“Like our president, I’m tired of P.C. politicians and their B.S. excuses,” McSally says after the video of Trump’s comments. “Now, I’m running for the Senate to fight the fights that must be won on national security, economic security and border security.”
McSally, considered an establishment favorite — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called her one of the party’s best Senate recruits this cycle — also takes aim at issues rarely addressed by mainstream Republicans. The video highlights her fight while in the Air Force to overturn a military rule requiring her to wear an Islamic robe over her Air Force uniform while stationed in Saudi Arabia. “I absolutely refused to bow down to Sharia law,” she says in the video.
“She’s taken the fight to the enemy, and the establishment,” a male narrator says at the start of the ad.
If McSally wins the GOP primary, she’ll likely face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a liberal-turned-moderate, in the general election. Democrats view the Arizona race as one of their two best pick-up opportunities on a tough 2018 Senate map. Trump won the state by just about 4 percentage points in 2016.
McSally’s announcement is a boon to Senate Republicans, but it means House Republicans have one more competitive open seat without an incumbent on the ballot this fall: her Southern Arizona district. At the presidential level, Hillary Clinton carried McSally’s seat by a 5-point margin in 2016, 50 percent to 45 percent.
Still, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called it a “Republican-leaning seat” in a statement issued shortly after McSally’s announcement became public and expressed confidence a fractured Democratic field would help the GOP keep the district next year.
“Currently, Democrats are duking it out in a five-way primary for this Republican-leaning seat,” he said.