ARIZONA NEWS

Martha McSally picked by Gov. Doug Ducey to succeed US Sen. Jon Kyl

Dec 18, 2018, 8:33 AM | Updated: 1:57 pm
U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks at a campaign rally Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Mesa, Ariz....

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks at a campaign rally Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Mesa, Ariz. President Donald Trump is in Arizona stumping for Senate candidate McSally. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Outgoing U.S. Rep. Martha McSally will soon be given a new title — and a new home on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

McSally was picked by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to succeed outgoing U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl on Tuesday.

“Over the last year, I’ve traveled across this great state, meeting with countless Arizonans, and listening to them,” McSally said in a statement.

“I’ve heard about the challenges they face and the hopes they have for the future – and I’ve learned a lot. I am humbled and grateful to have this opportunity to serve and be a voice for all Arizonans.”

McSally had narrowly lost an election to succeed outgoing U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in November. The appointment means they will now serve together in the U.S. Senate.

Ducey said during a Tuesday press conference that Sinema would be sworn in first, on Jan. 3, meaning she will serve as Arizona’s senior senator and the state’s first female U.S. senator. McSally would be sworn at a later date, he added.

“I’m going to respect the will of the voters,” Ducey said.

McSally was among the top Republicans whose names were floated to replace Kyl. She had represented Arizona’s second congressional district since 2015 and will be succeeded by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.

“With her experience and long record of service, Martha is uniquely qualified to step up and fight for Arizona’s interests in the U.S. Senate,” Ducey said in a statement.

“I thank her for taking on this significant responsibility and look forward to working with her and Sen.-elect Sinema to get positive things done.”

Kyl announced Friday that he would resign on Dec. 31, opening the door for Ducey to appoint a Republican — as is required by state law — to the seat. Kyl was appointed in September after John McCain died following a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

Kyl’s resignation was not surprising: Since he was appointed, Kyl has said he would not commit to serving in the Senate after the end of the year and would not seek the seat in 2020 or beyond.

In his resignation letter, Kyl said it would be “best if I resign so that your new appointee can begin the new term with all other senators…and can serve a full two (potentially four) years.”

Cindy McCain, the late senator’s wife, said in a tweet that she respects Ducey’s decision.

McSally had recently spoken with Cindy McCain and apologized after she followed President Donald Trump’s lead by failing to mention the dying senator’s name during the signing of his last defense bill.

The former Air Force pilot, 52, ran a campaign aligned with Trump and his values and appeared at a Mesa rally for the president just weeks before the election.

Her campaign repeatedly highlighted her military past, her stance on border security and her vote on the tax cut bill but faced criticism from Sinema for her support to repeal health care coverage from people with pre-existing conditions.

But McSally instead doubled down on her promises to strengthen border security and crack down on immigrants who commit crimes, hammering against the Central American migrants who are attempting to reach the U.S. border to apply for asylum.

“What are you talking about?” McSally said of the criticism. “Every single day, everywhere I go, people are asking me about the caravan. Every single day, they are asking about what we are doing to secure our border.”

McSally can run in a 2020 special election to fill the remainder of McCain’s seat through 2022. Then the seat will be up again for a full six-year term.

Kyl, the man McSally will soon replace, had served in the Senate from 1994 to 2013. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995.

Before he was elected to the House and after he left the Senate the first time, Kyl served as a lobbyist. He had also served as the sherpa for then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

McSally represented a swing district in Tucson that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She carved out a reputation as a moderate who could win tough elections. That ended during her Senate campaign.

She had been critical of Trump in 2016 but praised him during the midterm election. Facing a primary challenge from her right, McSally embraced a tougher stance on immigration. But she wasn’t able to defeat Sinema, who ran as a centrist and peeled away enough moderate Republicans to win by 2 percentage points.

In a postelection memo, McSally strategists argued that she did well in a strong Democratic year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lobbied for Ducey to select her.

Still, many Arizona Republicans were disappointed by McSally’s campaign and questioned whether she would be the strongest choice for McCain’s seat. Ducey had limited choices – the GOP’s bench is thin in Arizona and McSally was the only woman with federal experience who had campaigned statewide recently.

Democrats are already targeting the state in 2020 as part of their possible path to re-taking control of the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, former astronaut and current gun control advocate Mark Kelly and former state Attorney General Grant Woods, who left the GOP to become a Democrat this year, have all mulled running for the seat in 2020. Ducey himself has said he would not run in 2020.

Democrats quickly began attacking McSally for being appointed to the Senate just after losing the election.

“Why appoint a loser when you could find a fresh face with a better shot in 2020?” the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee said in a statement.

Ducey’s selection of the well-respected Kyl, who McSally will be replacing, following McCain’s Aug. 25 death allowed him to dodge the controversy over a replacement during his own re-election campaign.

McCain died at age 81 at his ranch near Sedona, Arizona just over a year after he announced he had glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that came with a dire diagnosis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Martha McSally picked by Gov. Doug Ducey to succeed US Sen. Jon Kyl