Near the end of a hotly contested battle to fill outgoing senator Jeff Flake’s seat, congresswoman Martha McSally leads congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema by 1 percent with vanishingly few precincts left to report. No major outlets have called the race, but Henry Olsen expects McSally to hang on.
One of McSally and Sinema will become the first woman to sit as senator from Arizona. If McSally stays ahead, credit the huge turnout in early voting that gave Republicans a hefty turnout advantage. Credit also McSally’s outperforming Donald Trump’s 2016 vote share in Pima and Cochise Counties, despite a strong performance for Sinema in Maricopa County — which includes the Phoenix area, more than 60 percent of the state’s voters, and usually tends Republican. McSally represents a chunk of the typically liberal Pima in Congress, and won 59 percent of the vote in Cochise.
In a sign of the state’s changing demographics and its ongoing trend in the purple direction, Sinema put together the best performance for any Democrat in an Arizona senatorial election since 1988. But it may not be enough to surpass McSally. During the campaign, Sinema was dogged by stories from her past life as a Green party activist and anti-war protester. She tried to repair her image since taking office in Congress, joining the Blue Dog caucus and moving to the center on issues such as immigration and foreign policy. She even made clear this week that she supported sending troops to the U.S.–Mexico border to maintain order with the caravan of Central American migrants incoming. But she dissembled about her past life, drawing national attention and criticism from McSally in a major theme of the election.
McSally is a former fighter pilot and colonel in the U.S. Air Force who served in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. She won election to Congress in 2014 and, during this race, drew contrasts between her personal background and Sinema’s. Like most Republicans, she emphasized immigration, national security, and the economy, portraying Sinema’s ostensible moderation on such issues as make-believe. If she wins, McSally will take office with a center-right voting record in Congress. She should be a more reliable vote for the GOP than Flake, however, and would add to the ranks of high-profile women in the Republican party.
It’s a bit too early to write this seat into the Republican column in Sharpie. But the restless can follow Olsen’s lead and pencil it in. Barring a surprise, Republicans will add still another seat to their Senate majority, and stave off dreams of a blue Arizona.