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Updated Feb 9, 2012, 4:07 pm
Former fighter pilot Martha McSally is getting into the race to replace U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. McSally said Thursday she's seeking to fill the vacant CD8 seat as a Republican.
McSally, the first woman to fly an Air Force fighter in combat, gained public notice a decade ago by successfully challenging a policy that U.S. servicewomen wear an abaya—a traditional black cloak—while off base in Saudi Arabia. McSally said the practice offended her as a Christian.
"I very strongly feel that I'm called to this office," she said of running for Congress.
"My faith matters to me deeply. I'm stepping out because I really believe I'm called to do it."
"I am a warrior. I am a leader," she said. "I have been given a pioneering spirit that I just can't turn off."
She will run in both the special election to replace the congresswoman, and in the fall election in the newly drawn Congressional District 2, she said.
"We need to have someone representing Southern Arizona in Washington, D.C., now," she said.
"There's no time for placeholders. There's time for action," she said, referring to Giffords aide Ron Barber, who is running in CD8 but hasn't committed to running in CD2 in the fall.
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She announced her candidacy on Jon Justice's right-wing morning talk radio show, and held a meeting with supporters at an East Side restaurant in the afternoon.
"I have national and international experience to represent this community in the federal government," she told a group of about 50 people on the patio of Zinburger, 6390 E. Grant Rd. "I understand it, I get it and I'm equipped in order to represent you."
A retired Air Force colonel, McSally was the first woman to command a fighter squadron. An A-10 pilot, she was stationed at Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base four times, beginning in 1994.
In 1995, the Rhode Island native worked as a national security advisor to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl while serving with the Air Force.
Until two weeks ago, she was teaching at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany. She spent her last three years in the service stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.
While she retired from the Air Force in 2010, her campaign website was registered to a military Post Office box.
McSally faces state Sen. Frank Antenori, former GOP nominee Jesse Kelly, sportscaster Dave Sitton, and Sierra Vista's John Lervold in the primary election.