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McConnell praises McSally as Senate candidate, despite lack of campaign

FILE - In this June 14, 2017 file photo Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. McSally has told Republican colleagues that she's running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake. McSally hasn't made a formal announcement of her intention to run in next year's Republican primary. But Arizona Rep. David Schweikert said Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, that she told fellow Arizona GOP members of Congress that she was running. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta,File)

PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has not formally announced her Senate campaign yet, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was singing her praises at a press conference on Friday.

In his end-of-year news conference, McConnell told reporters that McSally was one of the top Senate recruits as he was discussing the Republican Party’s strategy for the primary and general elections in 2018.

“In 2010 and in 2012 — in at least four places — we, as a result of being passive in primaries, had nominees who could not appeal to a general election audience. In 2014, we changed the model and we continued with a difference in 2016.

“The approach in 2018 will be the same. I want to nominate people who could actually win because the people who win elections make policy and the others go home and do something else.

“We’ve got some great candidates out there and you’re familiar with them, Martha McSally…We hope to land a few more in the coming weeks and I think we’re going to be very competitive,” McConnell said.

The statement left reporters scratching their heads — particularly since rumors of McSally’s impending candidacy have been floating around for months, but the Arizona congresswoman has not made any formal announcement.

McSally reportedly told her fellow Arizona Republicans in November that she was running for the Senate seat that will be left vacant by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in 2018.

“She said she’s in for Senate,” U.S. Rep. David Schweikert said at the time. “It was one of those just sort of as you’re running around from votes, so there wasn’t much of a conversation on my part.”

If she does enter the race, McSally would likely face off against former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who challenged U.S. Sen. John McCain last year but lost in the primary election, for the Republican seat.

McSally could also face opposition from other Republicans. Jay Heiler, a Phoenix attorney, was reportedly considering a run and President Donald Trump met with other potential candidates before his August campaign rally in Phoenix.

Flake announced in October that he would not seek re-election, citing the “Trump factor” as a “big” reason.

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