Representative Martha McSally began her career in public service not as a politician but as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. In 2001 she fought a Department of Defense policy that required women in combat to wear body coverings while serving in Saudi Arabia, and she has remained an outspoken critic of the woeful state of women’s rights in that part of the world ever since. Since taking office in 2015, McSally has been an exponent of center-right positions on foreign policy, immigration, and social issues. Now Arizonans have the opportunity to elect her to fill Jeff Flake’s soon-to-be-empty Senate seat.
McSally is facing Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, and the contrast between their résumés is conspicuous. Sinema was a prominent anti-war activist in the 2000s, handing out material that criticized “U.S. terror” in the Middle East and appearing on radio shows with assorted crackpots. When one libertarian activist said that he ought to be permitted to join the Taliban if he so pleased, Sinema responded on air, “Fine. I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead.” She passed out flyers that denounced President Bush as a “fascist” and an “imperialist” and once said the Bush administration was waging war for the purpose of expropriating oil.
That Sinema was once a left-wing activist is no secret. In the 2010s she said she had changed her mind about military intervention, and she has compiled a legitimately moderate voting record on many issues since taking office. She is one of a dwindling few Blue Dog Democrats and often votes with Republicans on issues pertaining to foreign policy and immigration. Coming to a new, more reasonable point of view shouldn’t be disqualifying; indeed, it is commendable if it is honestly accounted for and explained.
Over the last few weeks, however, Sinema has flunked this test. When CNN uncovered the above details about the nature of her activism, her response was to lash out and accuse the media of being in league with her opponent. Other gems revealed recently include that she once called Arizonans “crazy” (she now claims she was referring to the state’s Republicans, but did not say so at the time) and compared the state to a meth lab. Even more troubling, reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post have cast doubt on her claims that she grew up without electricity or running water. Needless to say, all of this raises questions about her judgment.
Personal and political contrasts aside, the race appears close, much closer than it should be on the merits. Changing demographics, a fracturing Republican coalition in the state, and ramped-up Democratic efforts to turn voters out in Pima County have helped make Arizona more of a swing state than ever. Lost in the 2016 election results was a surprisingly close margin of victory for Donald Trump (about 3.5 percentage points). Still, polls show McSally gaining steam as the revelations about Sinema have dented her reputation.
Arizonans have reason to doubt the sincerity of Sinema’s political-conversion story, and much else that she says. McSally, on the other hand, has compiled an excellent record both before and during her time in Congress. The choice should be clear.