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2020 AZ Senate Race--Democratic Astronaut Mark Kelly v. GOP Air Force Pilot Martha McSally

GOP Senator Martha McSally—A Trump Loyalist Not Fit for Arizona February 24, 2019

As I discussed in my previous blog post, should Mark Kelly (54) win the AZ Democratic Senate primary, he will be facing an intensely watched and close contest that could help decide control of the U.S. Senate in 11/2020. The general 11/2020 Senate election in AZ would be pitting two military veterans against each other. Democratic candidate Captain Mark Kelly, a naval combat aviator and NASA astronaut, would be opposing GOP Senator Martha McSally, a former air force fighter pilot who became a colonel (AP, latimes.com, 2/12/19, CNN, Stracqualursi, V., 2/12/19). Who is Martha McSally?

Martha McSally (52) is currently serving as AZ’s junior Senator. After GOP Sen. John McCain died of brain cancer in 8/2018, AZ GOP Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl to take McCain’s seat for a few months. When Kyl resigned from the Senate, Gov. Ducey appointed McSally to that seat on 12/18/18 (see foxnews.com, Pappas, A., 12/18/18). In 11/2020, McSally will be running to fill the last two years of McCain’s term. The winner of that contest will run for a full six-year term in 2022 (See cbsnews.com, 12/18/18).

Warwick, RI native McSally graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1988. After earning a Master’s degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, she took pilot training. She graduated first in her class at the Air War College (people.com, Cheakalos, C., 9/03/14, projects.wsj.com, 9/03/14). She served in the U.S. Air Force from 1988-2010. McSally learned to fly the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Once the prohibition against female combat pilots was lifted, McSally became the first American woman to fly in combat and the first female to command a fighter squadron. She was assigned to an operational A-10 squadron and deployed to Kuwait in 1/1995. She flew combat patrols over Iraq in support of Operation Southern Watch, enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq (washingtonpost.com, Gehart, A., 10/25/12). In 2001, McSally successfully sued the Defense Department to change the U.S. military policy that required servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear body-covering clothes when traveling off-base in that country (now.org, Keller, M., Spring 2002). Congress later passed legislation prohibiting the military “from requiring servicewomen from putting on such body-covering clothes like the Saudi ‘abaya (DeWind, D., 2/21/11, themoderatevoice.com).’” McSally also worked as an advisor for AZ GOP Senator Kyl, the man she later replaced, under a Legislative Fellowship Program (mcsallyforcongress.com, 11/11/14).

In 11/2012, McSally ran against Dem. incumbent Ron Barber in the swingy AZ 2nd Congressional District (Cook Congressional Partisan Voting Index, PVI R+3). Barber was an aide to Cong. Gabby Giffords. Barber had also been wounded in the 1/2011 attack against Giffords. Barber had taken Giffords’ seat after she retired because of her head wound (CQ & Barone Political Almanacs 2014). In the closest 2012 congressional election in the nation, Barber beat McSally by 1,400 votes (tucsonnews.now, 11/22/12). In a 2014 rematch, McSally defeated Barber by 167 votes (azpm.org, 1/28/16).

In the House, McSally promoted herself as a “moderate.” However, like several other GOP “moderates,” she was a MINO, “Moderate in Name Only.” As of 1/2018, McSally had voted with her hard-right party 91.2% of the time in the 115th Congress (propublica.org, 2/12/17). As of 8/2018, “moderate” (LOL) McSally voted with Demagogue Donald’s legislative positions 97.8% of the time (Bycoffe, A., 7/31/18, fivethirtyeight.com). McSally opposes abortions in nearly all cases (azcentral.com, Shumway, J., 10/31/14). She voted to defund Planned Parenthood. She voted for banning abortions after 20 weeks, and for banning federal funding for abortions (Shumway, azcentral.com, 10/31/14, tucson.com, Fischer Capitol Media, science.kjzz.org, 9/24/15). In 2016, McSally called Donald’s “Access Hollywood” Tape “disgusting” and “unacceptable,” but did not take a position on whether her district’s constituents should vote for him. In 2/2017, McSally voted against a resolution that the House request ten years of Donald’s tax returns and review them. In her 2018 Senate campaign, she strongly roped herself to Donald (politico.com, Severns, M., 11/29/17, azcentral.com, Hansen, R., 10/09/16, indy100.com, 2/28/17).

McSally was a strong supporter of repealing Obamacare. Before voting for the radical Trumpcare legislation that repealed Obamacare in 5/2017, she told House GOPers to “get this f’cking thing done.” This “f’cking thing” would have caused 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance by 2026 (washingtonpost.com, 3/23/17, Nintzel, J., AP, 5/09/17). Cong. McSally faulted Obama’s executive actions in protecting children and parents from deportation (the DACA and DAPA programs). McSally later asked then Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to work on a bill to protect children brought here illegally as youngsters. However, when challenged by the right wingers in her Senate primary, she pulled her support and sponsorship of this DACA bill in 2008. McSally did not fault Trump for separating immigrant children from their parents but blamed Congress for this (Becky, Pallack, tucson.com, 2/18/17, Ingram, P., 5/01/17, tucsonsentinel.com, Terkel, A., & Foley, E., 5/10/18, huffingtonpost.com, 5/11/18 & 6/21/18). azcentral.com). Cong. McSally voted for the top-1% tax cut act and called polling against it “hysteria and misinformation (nytimes.com, Almukhtar, S., 12/19/17, gvnews.com, Shearer, D.).” She also wanted young workers to invest, rather than put their earnings in Social Security (azcentral.com, 10/21/18).

On 1/12/2018, McSally announced she was running to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. She was the GOP’s “establishment” candidate in the Republican primary against conspiracy “chem trail” State Senator Kelli Ward and cruel anti-Hispanic former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. However, McSally faced criticism from the right-wing Club for Growth and extremist Koch Freedom Works for not being “completely” in Donald’s camp. As a result, even before she announced her candidacy, McSally made it clear that she was totally tied to Donald and a “big fan of his (politico.com, Severns, M., 1/19/18).” Based on McSally’s overall record, her now being a 1,000% Trumper was not a hard sell and not really any “flip-flop.” McSally, previously upset with Trump’s personal character after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, now called Donald’s personal character a “non-issue,” only obsessed upon by the media and Democrats (azcentral.com). And on gun control, McSally has received a 93% rating from the NRA (votesmart.org). The Giffords gun control group opposes her views on this key issue. McSally is basically against enacting new gun laws, just enforcing the present weak ones (See ontheissues.org).

In the 11/2018 general election, McSally faced Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (CINEMA). Sinema then was the Congressman from AZ’s 9th Congressional District in the Phoenix area. Initially, Sinema was a member of the leftist Green Party. However, after joining the AZ Democratic Party in 2004, she has become a centrist/moderate Democrat. In the House, Sinema had a 57%-liberal to 43% conservative voting record (National Journal, votesmart.org). In the 2018 election, McSally constantly played up her Air Force background and attacked Sinema as an unchanged radical leftist. She went after Sinema for wearing a pink tutu at a 2003 anti-war demonstration and for protesting strongly against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In their only debate, McSally accused Sinema of backing “treason.” Sinema rightly called that charge “ridiculous (See AP, Riccardi, 10/15/18, usatoday.com, Collins, E., 11/28/17, cnn.com, 10/12/18, azcentral.com, Sanchez, Y.W., 10/10/18).” McSally’s attacks made the race close, but in the end, she lost to Sinema, in purple-trending AZ. A strong-Democratic turnout helped Sinema and her moderate record impressed independents. She defeated McSally by a 2.35% margin, 49.97%-47.62% (results.arizona.vote). Sinema became the first Democrat to represent AZ in the U.S. Senate since 1995 and is now AZ’s senior Senator. She is also the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from AZ and the first openly bisexual one (AP News, 11/12/18, qvoice.news, 11/12/18).

After Gov. Ducey appointed McSally to fill McCain’s seat, McSally and Sinema became the first U.S. Senate colleagues in history to serve together after running against each other in the prior year. The Sinema/McSally duo constitutes only the second time in which two females from different parties currently represent the same state in the U.S. Senate (azcentral.com).

The ultimate question, of course, is whether Democratic Mark Kelly can successfully defeat appointed U.S. Senator Martha McSally in 11/2020. After Kelly’s 2/12/2019 announcement that he was running for McSally’s seat on his very powerful video, he raised over $1 million from individual contributions, a very impressive haul (See washingtonexaminer.com, Correll, D.S., 2/14/19). Kelly will have to keep raising such individual sums to counter McSally, who will be showered with millions from GOP and GOP-leaning groups. Kelly plans to reject corporate PAC money (See cnn.com, 2/12/19, Stracqualursi). Individual Democratic donors will have to keep raising money for Kelly to level the playing field. Both Kelly and McSally have strong veteran and military credentials. Kelly, therefore, does not have a clear advantage in the national security/military field, in a state where at least 11% of the residents are veterans (Barone 14). Both Kelly and McSally will be vying to take the place of war hero John McCain.

There will, of course, be a presidential race in 2020. Democrats normally turn out in stronger numbers during presidential election years, but so will Trump supporters. The Democrats will need to have a top tier presidential nominee for Kelly to be able to run a strong race in the Grand Canyon State. Since native son Barry Goldwater’s presidential run in the 1960’s, AZ has normally been a GOP conservative stronghold at the national level. Bill Clinton was the only Democrat who has carried this state since that time (1996). In 2012, Romney won AZ by 9 points over Obama (CQ 14 Almanac), and Trump beat Hillary by a 3.5 percentage margin (nytimes.com/elections 2016, 8/01/17). True, McSally has already lost a U.S. Senate race, but it was a narrow defeat, not a blowout. With her appointment to McCain’s seat, she is the incumbent, a plus to many voters. She has also already run a Senate campaign which Kelly, a non-politician, never has. She will try to avoid any previous gaffes she made the second time around. Kelly will have to be ready to competently answer all kinds of questions dealing with domestic, foreign, and local AZ issues, not just matters dealing with space, the military, and gun control. Gabby and her former staffers can and must help him here. More than 30% of Arizonans are Hispanic (Barone 14) and more of them are voting, but their turnout is often not that strong. Democrats will have to get them to vote heavily for Kelly to win. Kelly will have to take moderate stands in “purple”-trending AZ to win, yet bring out Democratic progressives “big time” as well. Democrats will also have to unite behind Kelly after a probably contentious primary. Yes, Senate appointee McSally is considered vulnerable because of her loss to Sinema, but elections are not won on paper or by statisticians. They are won with good candidates and massive voter turnout. Yes, Mark Kelly, with his outstanding biography and the inspiring story of his wife Gabby Giffords is a top Democratic draw. He can win in 2020 swingy AZ but it is far from a “done deal.”