For many politicians, the allure of the Senate is its relatively sane pace. It means one election every six years, rather than the two years for House members or the four years most governors face.
Not for Arizona’s Martha McSally, who is moving from the House to the Senate next year and continues what will in effect be an almost-five-year campaign. One Republican fundraiser only half-joked that McSally’s need for campaign cash would make her a very familiar name on donors’ call sheets.
McSally lost a narrow Senate race in November to Democratic rival Kyrsten Sinema. On Tuesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to the seat once held by Sen. John McCain, who died in August. (Former Sen. Jon Kyl had been serving the seat on an interim basis.) McSally will fill the Senate seat until 2020, when a special election will be held to decide who serves until the term ends in 2022, when McSally is expected to yet again be on the ballot.
That’s three Senate races for McSally in a state that might be one of the trickiest right now in U.S. politics.
Arizona blends the American West’s streak of independence and moxie with a long tradition of conservative values. But it stands apart from other Republican-leaning states in that it has less of the anti-immigrant zeal that colors its peers. Its booming economy is powered in large part through newcomers. It was the home base for McCain, a self-styled maverick who twice ran for president, as well as conservative stalwart Barry Goldwater, another White House hopeful whose ideology rebooted the modern GOP. And yet, it is a place where President Donald Trump has deep pockets of support, making McCain’s objections to Trump’s unorthodox approach to the job all the more troublesome for both.
All of which make McSally’s role going ahead all the more interesting, especially given she will be the 25th female Senator in a chamber of 100. During her campaign, McSally tied herself into a pretzel to trying to shed her Never Trump image from 2016 and repositioning herself as a MAGA warrior for 2018. A spirited primary dragged her rightward and she stayed there, eventually enlisting Trump to hold a campaign rally for her in October. She held McCain and his legacy at arm’s length, going so far as to avoid using the title of a bill named for him — a move that left members of the McCain orbit bristling. (She has since apologized to the McCain clan, Republicans say.)
The embrace of Trump, though, backfired, and state Republicans lost a seat they had held for three decades. On Election Day, about 185,000 voters cast their ballots for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey while also backing Sinema.
But McSally, a decorated Air Force combat pilot, is heading to the Senate regardless. She remains a personal favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has his own complicated relationship with this President. McConnell is facing a challenging 2020 map for Republicans to hold their majority, and McSally will once again be a priority for the national GOP.
But if 2018 was hard, running again when Trump is on the ballot as well in 2020 could prove even trickier. And should she succeed, she may find the 2022 elections — which will be the midterms of either a second Trump term or an as-yet-undetermined Democrat — trickier still.