Arizona Rep. Martha McSally announced her intention to run for the GOP Senate nomination in Arizona, embracing Donald Trump and putting the primary field on notice as to what sort of race she is going to run.
“I’m a fighter pilot, and I talk like one,” said McSally, the first female pilot to fly in combat. “That’s why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done.”
McSally is challenging right-wing icon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who announced his bid last week.
“We are in a crucial time for our country. The security of the United States and so much else will be on the line in these coming years. It’s a time of big and defining choices,” McSally told the crowd while announcing her candidacy. “I recently made one myself, and I wanted my friends in Tucson to be the first to know. As of today, I am a candidate for the office of United States senator from Arizona.”
McSally’s campaign announcement includes her promise to save the close air support aircraft, the A-10. McSally flew the plane on combat missions when she served in the U.S. Air Force.
One of her opponents, former state senator Kelli Ward, tried to brand McSally as a Jeff Flake clone. Flake is retiring at the end of this year and was constantly at odds with the president.
The race to succeed sitting Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who announced last year that he is not seeking re-election, is seen as key to Republican hopes of holding on to their slim 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate.
Both Arpaio — an immigration hard-liner who was last August was pardoned by Trump after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court — and Ward have attempted to portray themselves as the true Trump loyalists in the race.
Ward’s campaign released a new ad on social media following McSally’s announcement attempting to paint her as the candidate of the Washington establishment.
“Martha McSally is Jeff Flake 2.0 and part of the Washington establishment that has failed Arizona for years,” said Ward campaign chair Ed Rollins. “She opposed Donald Trump as a candidate and has undermined him as president, which is why leading conservatives are rejecting McSally and are lining up behind a true reformer in Dr. Kelli Ward.”
While serving in the Air Force, McSally sued the Department of Defense in 2001 over a requirement that female pilots be forced to wear the Muslim abaya while off base in Saudi Arabia.
McSally, one of the few women on track to make general in the armed forces, says the dress code requires female military personnel to dress while off the base in “host nation attire” – a traditional Muslim head-to-toe garment called an abaya. This is unconstitutional, she says, because military men are not required to dress like local men.
“This is where we separate our men from our women and we demean and humiliate just them,” she tells Stahl.
The Pentagon says the policy is to protect American troops from harassment and possible terrorist attacks and to be sensitive to the customs of Saudi Arabia, where some 5,000 military men and women are stationed.
It’s foolish, says McSally, because a male must accompany women at all times off base, a male with crew-cut hair and western clothes that make the Americans glaringly obvious anyway.
Also demeaning, she says, is the fact that only men can drive vehicles, according to policy. “And then I have to sit in the back and at all times I must be escorted by a male…that, when questioned, is supposed to claim me as his wife,” McSally tells Stahl.
“I can fly a single-seat aircraft in enemy territory, but I can’t drive a vehicle… They turned me into a fighter pilot. This is who I am. When I see something messed up, I’m going to challenge it.”
Not surprisingly, she won her case when DoD changed the policy in 2002.
The primary race promises to be a barn burner. All three major GOP candidates are expected to be reasonably well funded and all have pretty good name recognition. It may come down to which candidate can convince the voters they love Trump more than the others.
Whoever comes out on top in the primary will probably face Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who has been raising money and her profile for more than a year while attracting the backing of many national Democrats.