Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: December 18, 2018 10:07 p.m.
Updated as of Tuesday, December 18, 2018 5:46 PM
PHOENIX — A month after losing her own bid for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Congresswoman Martha McSally to the seat once held by John McCain.
At a press conference Tuesday, the governor acknowledged that McSally was defeated by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in an election just slightly more than a month ago. But Ducey said that did not disqualify McSally, who has served two terms in the House of Representatives, from moving to the upper chamber.
“Arizona needs someone who understands the critical issues, who can get to work on Day 1, and who embodies a spirit of service, putting the people we represent above all else,’’ the governor said. By law, Ducey was required to name a Republican like McCain.
The move Tuesday comes on the heels of the long-anticipated decision by Jon Kyl, who the governor appointed as at least an interim replacement for John McCain after his death in August, to return to the private sector where he had been. Kyl had made it clear from the beginning he likely would not want to keep the seat until the 2020 election.
It also comes after the governor has been openly lobbied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to name McSally to the seat.
But the governor insisted that the choice was his - and his alone.
“I think the fact that I’m standing here and now with Martha McSally at my side, making the appointment to the United States Senate, says everything that needs to be said,’’ Ducey said.
Both Ducey and McSally were careful to give credit to Sinema who defeated McSally last month by more than 55,000 votes out of almost 2.4 million votes cast. That includes allowing Sinema to be sworn in first on Jan. 3, giving her not just the title of being the state’s senior senator but also the bragging rights of being Arizona’s first female senator.
And McSally promised to work closely with Sinema, saying out they were able to do that when they were both members of the House of Representatives.
“We had a very spirited campaign but it’s over,’’ McSally said.
That may be understating it.
During their sole televised debate, McSally chided Sinema for making comments in a radio broadcast in 2003, during her anti-war days. Asked if it was OK to fight for the Taliban, Sinema said, “Fine, I don’t care if you want to do that.’’
McSally said that amounted to Sinema saying “it’s OK to commit treason.’’
On Tuesday, McSally brushed aside her comments.
“The election’s over and the people have spoken and I’m honored to have this appointment,’’ she said. “Now, for all of us, it’s about moving forward.’’
McSally did herself no favors earlier this year when taking credit for a new defense spending bill and standing with President Trump when he signed it without either of them mentioning McCain - no small feat as the legislation was dubbed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act of 2019.
She sought to make amends by meeting this past week Cindy McCain. That apparently paid off, with the senator’s widow on Tuesday providing what at best could be described as a lukewarm endorsement of the move.
“I respect Doug Ducey’s decision to appoint Rep. McSally to fill the remainder of his term,’’ she wrote in her twitter feed. “Arizonans will be pulling for her, hoping that she will follow his example of selfless leadership.’’
But others in the McCain clan were not as generous.
In a tweet several days ago as Ducey was weighing his options, Ben Domenech, husband of daughter Meghan McCain, said that McSally would be an “unwise choice.’’
“She’s like an NFL team that plays down to its opponents’ level,’’ he wrote. “And she’ll be tasked with running for reelection immediately.’’
Meghan McCain retweeted her husband’s comments but has made no statement of her own.
Domenech took another swat at McSally Tuesday, after the announcement, questioning in The Federalist which he publishes whether the newly minted senator can hold on to the seat she was just handed.
“The demands of running non-stop are hard enough when you’re talking about a House seat,’’ he wrote.
For more on this story, visit dCourier.com.
“In this case, McSally will have to do something she hasn’t done before -- win statewide -- in back-to-back election cycles,’’ Domenech said. “Whether she holds the seat in 2020 comes down to whether McSally has the capacity and the humility to learn from her mistakes as a campaigner, and chooses a new political team with a proven record of winning in purple states.’’
Ducey sidestepped a question about the family opposition.
“I think you all know the regard that I hold Sen. John McCain in and his legacy as an Arizona treasure, an American icon and a hero to our country,’’ the governor said. “I have the same feelings about Cindy and the entire McCain for that matter.’’
And Ducey said the meeting between McSally and Cindy McCain, enabled them to “clear the air.’’
“And now it’s time to get to work,’’ the governor said.
One factor that may have affected Ducey’s decision is the fact cited by Domench: McSally will have to run again in 2020 for the remaining two years on McCain’s original six-year term. And whoever wins that race then has to turn around to campaign for a full six-year term in 2022.
That will require someone with not just campaign experience but the ability to raise money, both of which McSally has proven.
Republican-turned-Democrat Grant Woods, a former state attorney general, already is staking his claim to the 2020 nomination. And Congressman Ruben Gallego also has expressed some interest in the seat.
The governor acknowledged he was giving McSally a Senate seat she could not win on her own.
But he said McSally still tallied more than a million votes and said the vacancy provides her the opportunity to serve alongside Sinema.
Ducey, in announcing the appointment, made no mention of the 2020 race. Instead he cited McSally’s 26 years in the military, her six deployments to the Middle East and Afghanistan and being the first woman to fly in combat and command a fighter squadron in combat.
The governor also took the time to thank Kyl who had retired from the Senate at the beginning of 2013 but agreed to serve, at least on an interim basis. Kyl’s appointment was crucial as the Senate was preparing to vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. And Kyl, a Washington, D.C. political consultant and lobbyist, was a clear Kavanaugh supporter, having already taken on the role of being the nominee’s “sherpa’’ through the confirmation process.
Kyl was not at Tuesday’s event -- Ducey said he was in Washington to vote on an issue -- but did provide a statement of support for the choice.