RCP: Can McSally Rocket Past Kelly in AZ Senate Race?
By: Susan Crabtree
It’s a mid-October afternoon, less than a month before Election Day. Early voting is underway, and tens of millions of dollars are pouring into the Arizona Senate race pitting McSally, 54, the first female U.S. military pilot to fly in combat, against Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut who commanded the second-to-last space shuttle mission….
McSally, who was appointed to serve out Sen. John McCain’s term after he died in August 2018, is hitting Kelly for getting rich from lucrative contracts and investments from Chinese firms and corporate interests, including one marketing gig that featured Kelly posing with two attractive female flight attendants in short skirts.
The senator offers a half-apology for not dressing up for the interview. Clad in well-worn jeans, tennis shoes and a loose gray cardigan, she’s shed the skirt and heels she wore to greet Pence on the tarmac and to an event earlier that day honoring ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller, a native Arizonan and aid worker murdered in 2015.
McSally is fresh off her only televised debate with Kelly the night before. She won high marks from conservatives for going on the offensive, slapping a new nickname, “Counterfeit Kelly,” on her challenger and casting him as a left-wing radical who would undermine Arizonans’ personal freedoms. She said Kelly favors new restrictions on gun owners and more blanket COVID restrictions on businesses already struggling to stay afloat.
McSally is ranked as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress and tied for the most bills passed into law, including several land exchanges aimed at giving more local control to Arizonans and one expanding veteran treatment courts across the nation. It provides assistance to veterans struggling with addiction and behavioral problems.
“Every time I’ve had to make a hard decision – do you stand up to against, you know, Goliath – the secretary of defense or the next big challenge? – I’m sitting in bed thinking, ‘What am I going to do about this?’” she recalls. “I just think this isn’t about me. I’m not the only one who has faced this.”
It’s the same message she’s been telling herself when responding to the pandemic that’s upended the country and the once-soaring economy. When the coronavirus first hit, McSally recalls going house to house in her close-knit neighborhood, checking on her neighbors, including an elderly woman whose disabled veteran husband is in an assisted living facility. She said she wanted to make sure everyone around her could have their groceries delivered and wanted to know how the small businesses were doing amid the lockdowns.
While serving four years in the House, McSally recalls spending many late nights as part of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus trying to forge an alternative to Obamacare that would offer more options to the insurance market, similar to association health plans that would allow more people in related businesses to join together to buy coverage as a larger group. She wasn’t successful but doesn’t regret spending the time trying to produce a bipartisan compromise.
“In this race, we can talk about me versus my opponent, and what I’ve done for Arizona,” she said. “But man, the choice that we have right now is between continuing to have a country where people have opportunity and we have safety and security or fundamental transformation.”
“That’s the moment that we’re at,” she says. “And I have to do all I can in the position I have.”