Official portrait of U.S. Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ)
Congresswoman Martha McSally announced today that she is running for Senate.
In a campaign video featuring news clips from her time in the Air Force and of a recent speech by President Donald Trump, McSally said:
“Like our President, I’m tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses. I’m a fighter pilot and I talk like one. That’s why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done. Now I’m running for the Senate to fight the fights that must be won on national security, economic security, and border security. After taking on terrorists in combat, the liberals in the Senate won’t scare me one bit.”
McSally is currently serving her second term in the House of Representatives. Her district, CD 2, is located in southeastern Arizona and is one of the most competitive districts in the United States.
After narrowly losing to then-Congressman Ron Barber in 2012, McSally defeated Barber in 2014 by less than 200 votes. In 2016, she easily defeated Matt Heinz by 14 points.
She will face Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio in the Republican primary in August.
Ward is an osteopathic physician and served as the state senator from 2013 to 2015. She lost the Republican primary for Senate in 2016 to Senator John McCain, 39 percent to 52 percent, respectively.
Joe Arpaio served as the sheriff of Maricopa County from 1993 to 2017. Always a controversial figure, he lost reelection in 2016 to Paul Penzone. In July 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court relating to racial profiling policies as sheriff. The next month he was granted a pardon by President Donald Trump.
Senator Jeff Flake’s announcement last October that he would not seek a second term sent shockwaves through the Arizona GOP. The Senator’s decision seemed to be driven by polls suggesting that he would lose the GOP primary to Ward, who was the only candidate actively running against Flake at the time.
Although she waited until today, McSally’s interest in the Senate was apparent as soon as Flake made his announcement. In November she told her fellow GOP Representatives from Arizona that she intended to run, thereby clearing the field of other potential candidates like Congressman Paul Gosar.
Since that time, the Congresswoman has been bolstering her position with President Trump and his administration.
Even so, McSally will have a rough time convincing Republicans aligned with Trump that she fully backs a President whom she refused to endorse in 2016.
Her situation was further complicated after a secretly recorded tape of a discussion with a group of potential donors was released to the public. Although McSally does not directly criticize the administration in the recording, it is clear that she views the President’s actions and tweets as a distraction from her and her fellow Republicans’ work in Congress.
McSally has also taken flak from the right for her position on immigration. An opposition group went so far as to launch amnestymartha.com, which claims that McSally “voted twice to protect Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty program, then she voted to fund the illegal amnesty program even after her colleagues tried to block it.”
She has since sought to project a “tough on immigration” attitude. Earlier this week she met with President Trump and Republican Congressional leaders to discuss immigration reform.
Later she gave a press conference on the Securing America’s Future Act. The bill was introduced by Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) and cosponsored by five other Republicans including Martha McSally.
At the press conference for the bill, McSally spoke about the need to crack down on illegal immigration and secure the United States’ borders:
“Our unsecured border and broken immigration system threaten our country’s safety and prosperity; no one knows this better than Arizona. As if the most recent terrorist attacks don’t stand as reason enough, sophisticated drug cartels, human traffickers, and an opioid crisis all point to the need for action. Now is the time.
“Our legislation finally strengthens America’s borders. It moves us towards a merit-based immigration system. It includes funds for necessary infrastructure, interior law enforcement, a biometric exit-entry system, and an e-verify system for employers so that our immigration laws are enforced. It cracks down on sanctuary cities and focuses on the public safety of our citizens like Kate Steinle who was killed by a man deported 5 times. And it also puts more boots on the border and supports our Border Patrol Agents and CBP officers on the frontlines. America is the most generous and welcoming nation in the world, and that will continue. But we won’t be taken advantage of any longer. This bill delivers on what the American people want and what our President has requested, and I urge my colleagues to join us and support it.”
Even with appearances next to the President, a strong immigration bill, and a 96.7 percent Trump score from FiveThirtyEight, McSally still may not be perceived as enough of a Trump supporter to defeat Ward and Arpaio in the GOP primary.
A recent poll from ABC15/OHPI of likely GOP voters shows Martha McSally and Joe Arpaio in a tie for first place. The poll had an error rate of +/-4.36 percent with McSally receiving 31 percent support, Arpaio 29 percent, Ward 25 percent, and the remaining 15 percent undecided.
The poll also included a hypothetical with each candidate receiving endorsements from prominent conservatives. With a hypothetical endorsement from McConnell, McSally jumps to 31 percent. A Trump endorsement could boost Arpaio to 35 percent, just within the polling error.
The same survey showed that an endorsement from Steve Bannon would significantly hurt Kelli Ward. Ward has been distancing herself from the former White House Chief Strategists ever since his public split with President Trump. In the weeks before Senator Flake announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection, Bannon publically endorsed Ward in her bid for Flake’s seat.
Although an individual survey can only reveal so much, the ABC15/OHPI poll appears to show no clear frontrunner in the race. Each candidate has a history of raising large amounts of campaign donations and each has high name recognition among the state GOP.
However, a three-way race does allow for a spoiler effect. It is unlikely that any candidate will receive an absolute majority of the vote in the Republican primary. Even John McCain was barely able to get more than half the votes in the 2016 primary against Ward.
*A previous version of this article misspelled Kelli Ward’s name.