McSally holds narrow lead, but Senate race too close to call

By: - November 7, 2018 12:38 am

Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (left) and Martha McSally (right). Photos courtesy Gage Skidmore.

The blockbuster race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake is too close to call, with Republican Martha McSally holding a razor-thin lead over Democrat Kyrsten Sinema as Election Day drew to a close.

With about 810,000 ballots left to be counted across the state, McSally led by about 22,000 votes.

Control of the Senate won’t hinge on the outcome of the race between the two congresswomen. Republicans picked up seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, adding to their lead in the Senate, where they now hold at least 51 seats. Arizona was one of just a small handful of pickup opportunities Democrats had in the Senate this year.

The winner of the race will replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, who opted not to seek a second term after angering many of his fellow Republicans with his vocal criticism of Trump.

Between the outside groups supporting McSally and Sinema and the candidates themselves, tens of millions of dollars were spent in Arizona’s Senate race. McSally and her Republican allies, including a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, excoriated Sinema for past positions on the military and terrorism, illegal immigration and border security, as well for opposing legislation during her time in the state House of Representatives that aimed to crack down on men who solicit sex from underage prostitutes.

McSally, who was the first female combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force, delighted in contrasting her background with Sinema’s, often pointing out that she was flying missions against the Taliban after 9/11 while Sinema protested in a pink tutu.

If Sinema ultimately prevails, she’ll become the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat since 1988, when Dennis DeConcini won his third and final term. Whoever wins will become the first woman to represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate.

Sinema’s campaign was the culmination of a years-long transformation for a candidate who began her political career as a radical left-wing activist but gradually moved toward the center, and is now known as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress.

The former Green Party member, who protested the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks, has racked up a relatively conservative record in her three terms representing the Phoenix and Tempe-based 9th Congressional district. She votes with Republicans more than all but one other House Democrat, and she proudly touts herself as a bipartisan aisle-crosser who frequently works with Republicans.

Conversely, McSally was known as a relative moderate during her two years representing the 2nd Congressional District in Tucson. Throughout her Senate campaign, McSally moved to the right on immigration issues and embraced President Donald Trump, who rallied with her in Mesa in mid-October.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”