Martha McSally lost the election but will be a U.S. senator after all.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced this morning that he will appoint McSally, who was defeated by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the November election, to the U.S. Senate. McSally, a two-term congresswoman from Tucson, will replace Jon Kyl, who Ducey appointed in September to fill the seat following the death of Sen. John McCain.
Ducey said he gave careful consideration to who he would appoint when he chose Kyl, and said he did the same in picking McSally.
“Arizona needs someone who understands the critical issues, who can get to work on day one, and who embodies the spirit of service of putting the people we represent above all else,” the governor said during a press conference with McSally at the Executive Tower on Tuesday morning.
“Martha McSally possesses these qualities.”
Ducey cited McSally’s 26 years of serving in the U.S. Air Force, where she was the first woman combat pilot in American history and served in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And he noted that she’s represented the 2nd Congressional District for the past four years.
“Martha McSally is uniquely qualified to fight for Arizona’s interests in the United States Senate. On issues affecting Arizona’s military bases and veterans, she brings a personal expertise as one who’s worn the uniform. And on the important issues that affect everyday families, she’s shown a talent for bringing people together and finding common ground,” Ducey said.
McSally said she was humbled and honored by the appointment.
“Over the last year I’ve traveled over this great state and I’ve met with countless Arizonans. I’ve done a lot of listening and I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “When I ran for the Senate, it was with the full understanding of the monumental responsibility that comes with that office, as one of only 100 senators in the country and only two from Arizona. And it’s with that same appreciation for this office that I humbly stand before you today.”
The campaign between McSally and Sinema was often contentious. McSally repeatedly attacked Sinema for inflammatory statements she made years ago during her time as a left-wing activist and provocateur, including her opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and famously suggesting that Sinema had committed treason during a post-debate interview in October.
But McSally said the campaign is over, and that she looks forward to working with Sinema, as she did while they served in the House of Representatives together.
Ducey said McSally will be sworn in after Sinema takes her oath of office. That means Sinema will be Arizona’s senior senator and the first woman to represent the state in the Senate.
The governor made clear that he thought Sinema should take office first.
“Of course we are going to follow Senate rules, but I’m also going to respect the will of the voters. Senator-elect Sinema was elected to the office and she’s going to be sworn in first,” he said.
Arizona will be the sixth state to be represented by two woman in the Senate, joining California, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and Washington.
Kyl made clear at the time of his appointment that he would likely only serve through the end of the year. And speculation over who Ducey would appoint ramped up significantly over the past week, since Kyl announced that he would leave at the end of December.
Kirk Adams, who resigned as Ducey’s chief of staff on Friday, was viewed as another top contender for the appointment. Some speculation also focused on Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and state Treasurer Eileen Klein.
But in McSally, Ducey selected someone who many observers view as the GOP’s best chance to hold the seat in 2020, when President Donald Trump will be up for re-election and Democrats are hoping to build on the substantial gains they made in this year’s midterms, including their first win in an Arizona Senate race since 1988.
McSally is a proven fundraiser who raised nearly $22 million for her Senate campaign. She has a compelling life story and has the backing of Republican heavy hitters in Washington, D.C., including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose super PAC spent heavily for her in the 2018 election and who personally lobbied Ducey to appoint her as Kyl’s replacement.
A special election will be held in 2020 for the final two years of McCain’s term, which began in January 2017.
Arizona Democrats have high hopes for 2020, and several candidates are already eying the Senate race. Former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods has changed his voter registration to Democrat and has expressed interest in the race, and Congressman Ruben Gallego is also considering a run. Many view retired astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as a top-tier potential candidate as well.
Felecia Rotellini, chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party, called McSally the “hand-picked” choice of Washington insiders, and criticized Ducey for choosing a candidate who was already rejected by Arizona voters.
“Mitch McConnell and Martha McSally are ignoring the will of Arizona voters to advance their agenda of putting their wealthiest donors ahead of Arizonans’ access to health care,” Rotellini wrote on Twitter.
Ducey brushed off the criticism that he shouldn’t have appointed McSally because the voters have already rejected her.
“The voters did make their choice, and I believe that the voters had two excellent choices in this past election. Martha McSally received over 1 million votes to the United States Senate, and now she will be serving alongside senior Sen. Kyrsten Sinema,” he said.
Ducey and McSally both had high praise for McCain, who died in August after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. McSally called him a giant of the Senate, an Arizona icon and an American hero, and said she’ll strive to follow his example of putting country before self.
McSally’s relationship with the McCain family has been strained. In August, McSally snubbed McCain by not mentioning his name when speaking about the signing of a defense bill that was named for the senator, earning a public rebuke from Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter. Meghan McCain and her husband, conservative writer Ben Domenech, both said prior to the appointment that they thought McSally would be a bad choice.
McSally and Cindy McCain, the senator’s widow, met last week.
“I was happy that Martha and Cindy were able to get together and visit earlier this week and clear the air. And now it’s time to get to work,” Ducey said.
Cindy McCain wrote on Twitter today, “I respect @dougducey‘s decision to appoint @RepMcSally to fill the remainder of his term. Arizonans will be pulling for her, hoping that she will follow his example of selfless leadership.”