- - Thursday, December 20, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Republican Rep. Martha McSally is nobody’s idea of a sore loser. The Tucson area congresswoman recently lost a close race for Senate to her fellow Arizona representative, a Democrat named Kyrsten Sinema, who represents Phoenix. Even though Ms. McSally appeared to be in the lead on election night itself, late counts pushed Ms. Sinema across the finish line a few days later.

The experience must have been a bitter one, all the more so given that Ms. McSally also ran — and won — in a viciously hardfought Republican primary. Still, the congresswoman did not grouse: She instead offered a charming concession speech, delivered by video with her adorable dog sitting by her side. Failed Democrats who resisted conceding this year, like Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, and Florida’s duo of sore losers Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson, should probably have taken notes on Ms. McSally’s master class in graciousness.

Yet it now turns out that Ms. McSally — despite being rejected by Arizona’s voters less than two months ago — will take a seat on the United States Senate after all. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed her to the seat vacated by John McCain’s death earlier this year. She will replace Jon Kyl, who held the seat for several months this year, and who has announced his intention to resign on December 31.

Martha McSally is a deeply impressive person by any standard. Raised by a single mother, a Harvard graduate and Air Force veteran, she was the first woman to fly in combat in American history, back in 1991. She served 22 years in the Air Force before running for Congress. She has served there with distinction, racking up a thoroughly conservative record. Ms. McSally has maintained a particular focus on national security and veterans issues, two concerns she has some expertise in.

She would, in other words, have made a fine senator. Yet her appointment by Mr. Ducey is still questionable in judgment.

For one, Mr. Ducey’s selection of Ms. McSally looks somewhat anti-democratic. The voters of Arizona were given the choice of electing Martha McSally to the United States Senate just six weeks ago. They declined the offer. Turning around and immediately appointing her looks like a governor exactly not respecting their choice.

Politically, it may have been a mistake as well. Ms. McSally will have to run for re-election in 2020. Then, because of a quirk of the electoral calendar, she will have to run again in 2020. As Ben Domenech, an expert on Arizona politics (he happens to be married to John McCain’s daughter) wrote recently, “McSally will have to do something she hasn’t done before — win statewide — in back to back election cycles.” That’s a tall order by any measure. That it will fall on a candidate who couldn’t win an election in a year in which Republicans gained seats in the Senate (and in a state that President Trump won in 2016) makes the task all the more difficult.

2020, in particular, will be a challenge, Mr. Domenech notes. Ms. McSally “will be running in tandem with Donald Trump’s re-election effort, and she will have to deal with Arizona’s complicated view of the president as well as continuing revelations from Democratic congressional investigations into his administration,” Mr. Domenech writes. “Arizona Democrats have several potentially strong Senate candidates, and McSally will have to work hard to prevent a primary challenge like the one she faced before from a Trump-loyalist candidate.”

Given the way the electoral stars are running, Mr. Ducey would have been better off appointing a Republican with a proven track record of winning in Arizona. And it’s not like the Grand Canyon State, long a well spring of rock ribbed Republicanism, is lacking for those: Former Gov. Jan Brewer, current attorney general Mark Brnovich, and secretary of state Michele Reagan all boast more impressive electoral records than Ms. McSally, and are conservative to boot. Come to think of it, the same could be said for Mr. Ducey: He very well could have appointed himself to the seat. It wouldn’t have been a bad choice.

Martha McSally will probably be a good senator. Too bad she likely won’t be one for very long.


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