Arizona Republican Martha McSally will likely lose her bid for the US Senate in 2020.
After her narrow defeat in the 2018 midterms at the hands of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, McSally seems bent on repeating her past mistakes.
Why McSally Lost
Democrat Kyrsten Sinema narrowly beat out Republican Martha McSally. Here’s what went wrong.
Governor Doug Ducey appointed McSally to Jon Kyl’s seat, who was serving out the late John McCain’s term.
Likely, this was political maneuvering to give McSally a boost in the hopes of a win in the General Election.
She will need every ounce of help she can get after her nearly $21 million campaign loss to Sinema.
This time, McSally is going to have a much tougher battle.
McSally is one of the most vulnerable senators — even more than Maine Republican Susan Collins. Incumbency carries little advantage.
In the 2018 midterm election, most of the Arizona’s 15 counties favored McSally. The Republican candidate performed especially well in Mohave County, a Mormon stronghold and the reddest of a red state. McSally needed to carry all of the outlying rural areas to overcome the voting powerhouse of urbanites living in the the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson.
Pima County, home of Tucson and McSally’s 2nd Congressional District, was not so much a win for Sinema.
It was protest against McSally and her support to undo the Affordable Care Act.
Arizona May Be Red, But It Isn’t Republican
Arizona has been a lock for Republicans for two decades. Now, over 33 percent of voters are Independents and make up the majority. As a result, the state has begun to adopt a more purple hue.
Winning voters who are not clearly aligned with either party will be one of many problems facing McSally. A bigger issue is that she is viewed as a Trump Republican in a state with a growing Hispanic electorate.
McSally Loses, Defined
There is no denying the retired Air Force Colonel is highly regarded among conservatives. Arizonans often cite their respect for her military service as a deciding factor in lending their support. The 2020 race will be offering those voters an enticing alternative.
Instead of wooing voters in the metro areas, McSally is once again focusing on her base. She is making swing through rural Arizona and glad-handing leaders for photo ops as she did in the past. Her failed midterm campaign strategy resulted in a lack of appeal to her constituents in the geographic and political center.
It is a failure she is repeating.
The most vocal of her critics complain about McSally refusing to conduct a Town Hall in her congressional district when she served in the US House. It is a legitimate grievance about transparency and communication she did not address in her 2018 campaign. So far, her strategy is to skirt the edges of Phoenix and Tucson.
It’s difficult to be transparent when sit-downs with constituents are closed to the media.
It is nearly impossible to campaign for political office when you have earned a reputation of being afraid of those you represent. Worse is when you don’t meet with your neighbors in your home congressional district. Unforgivable is when those voters already cost you one election.
Whether or not it is too late for a heartfelt mea culpa may never be known. It appears McSally is avoiding public appearances in Tucson for the time being.
Enter the Astronaut
In stark contrast to Kyrsten Sinema is Democratic Senate hopeful Mark Kelly.
He has the pedigree to appeal to many in McSally’s base, making his advantage in 2020 more than strictly a numbers game as it was in the midterm elections.
Whether or not Republicans cross party lines is of little consequence. Kelly need only appeal to Independents.
The husband of former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in a failed assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011, Kelly is a formidable opponent without the sympathy his wife garners in the state. It all but a given that he will carry Tucson.
A highly decorated retired Navy pilot, astronaut and engineer, initial polling showed an unknown Kelly almost tied with well-known McSally. Understanding how Sinema won and adopting a similar winning strategy, Kelly has been campaigning in the metropolitan areas.
But neither candidate has the blessing of their party, and with that comes money.
$60 Million Reasons
If 2018 taught us anything about Arizona, Senate races are expensive — costing about $60 Million between both candidates.
It is a well-known fact that those who spend the most money often win. Just days after announcing his candidacy, Kelly had already amassed over $1 million in donations. He has proven he is not only a viable candidate, but an exceptional fund raiser.
In Arizona, Democrats smell blood in the water. This does not bode well for McSally or the GOP.
If Republicans are to maintain a majority in the Senate in 2020, they must win many more races than the Democrats. With an enormous and growing field of strong presidential candidates, in addition to some 33 House races, money will be an issue.
The question is whether Republicans will financially back McSally. The party may choose to concede Arizona and devote resources to those races where they have a better shot at victory.
Originally published at primepolitical.com on February 23, 2019.