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McSally appointed to McCain's Senate seat

Arizona to join five other states with 2 women senators

Martha McSally will be a U.S. senator after all. The Republicans' losing candidate in November's election will be sent back to D.C. to the upper chamber, taking the seat formerly held by U.S. Sen. John McCain, and ever-so briefly by Jon Kyl.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday morning that he'll appoint McSally — who didn't seek re-election to her congressional seat in favor of an unsuccessful attempt to run for the seat vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake— to Arizona's other seat in the Senate. McSally, a two-term House member, will become the third person to hold the seat in just four months: After McCain’s death in August, Ducey tapped former Sen. Kyl to replace him.

With McSally and newly elected Kyrsten Sinema taking office in January, Arizona will join five other states that have two women serving in the U.S. Senate.

Kyl, the two-time senator, said last week that he'll leave office on Dec. 31. He had agreed to serve only for a short period after being named to fill McCain's seat in September, just two days after the late senator was laid to rest.

"I am humbled and grateful to have this opportunity to serve and be a voice for all Arizonans," McSally said in a statement released by Ducey's office. "I look forward to working with Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema and getting to work from day one."

Ducey, who was required by Arizona law to appoint a Republican to the seat, touted McSally's military service in familiar fashion.

"All her life, Martha has put service first — leading in the toughest of fights and at the toughest of times," said Ducey. "She served 26 years in the military; deployed six times to the Middle East and Afghanistan; was the first woman to fly in combat and command a fighter squadron in combat; and she's represented Southern Arizona in Congress for the past four years. With her experience and long record of service, Martha is uniquely qualified to step up and fight for Arizona's interests in the U.S. Senate."

Ducey indicated that McSally will take office as the new congressional session begins January 3. Given her longer tenure in the House, Sinema will become Arizona's senior senator.

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"Sen.-elect Sinema was elected to the office and she’s going to be sworn in first," the governor said, saying he wanted to "respect the will of the voters."

Kyl called McSally an "excellent choice."

"Because she currently represents Arizona in the U.S. Congress, Martha McSally certainly has the knowledge and experience to represent our state in the Senate," he said in the statement from the governor's office. "Moreover, she is highly energetic, smart and committed to finding practical solutions to problems facing our state and nation."

Democrats weren't quite so complimentary.

"Why appoint a loser when you could find a fresh face with a better shot in 2020? That's the question that will haunt Governor Ducey and the Washington Republicans who installed Martha McSally to a seat she couldn't earn," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "McSally was a weak candidate who ran a disrespectful campaign, and lied about her record of voting to gut pre-existing conditions coverage for 2.8 million Arizonans. Voters rejected her once, and will do so again."

McSally, who had dodged publicly commenting one way or another on President Donald Trump during his election run and for his first year in office, chose to closely align herself with the controversial Republican as she launched her statewide campaign.

The Republican National Committee was so eager to praise McSally's appointment that the group put out a statement prior to Ducey making the announcement Tuesday morning.

Ducey "has made a great decision and put Arizona first by appointing Martha McSally to the late Sen. John McCain's seat. McSally has a long history of fighting for our country and Arizonans, and will continue to fight for this state and its values in the Senate," said Renae Eze, an RNC spokeswoman, about 10 minutes before Ducey's office released a statement. Although McSally lost the November election, the RNC referred to her as "senator-elect" in the release touting her appointment.

In addition to having two women in the upper chamber, Arizona will be the only state with two freshmen in the Senate.

McSally elevation wasn't considered sure thing

With Kyl only set to serve through the end of this year's session, Ducey had known since September that he would have to make another appointment. But naming McSally after her loss at the polls wasn't considered to be an automatic choice.

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Ducey was tight-lipped about who might replace Kyl for the next two years of the term. McSally, who narrowly lost a bid for the Senate in November, had been widely mooted as a potential appointee if she failed to be elected, but a CYA, blame-everyone-else post-election memo by her campaign seemed to have taken the wind from beneath her political wings.

Other potential appointees included Ducey's former chief of staff, Kirk Adams, and state Treasurer (and former member of the Board of Regents) Eileen Klein.

Kyl, 76, served in the Senate from 1995 through his retirement after the 2012 election, becoming the second-highest ranking Republican senator, the minority whip.

He said he would serve "at least" through the end of the year, Ducey's office said in September.

Kyl, 76, agreed only to finish out the current session of Congress, which ends Jan. 3. Ducey had said he hoped Kyl would stay for the entire term, which ends in 2020.

Under Arizona law, Ducey was required to appoint a replacement for McCain, who died Aug. 25. The new senator was required to be a member of the same party — a Republican. Because the seat became vacant after the end of March, any appointment is good through the 2020 election cycle. That year, a new senator will be elected to serve through the balance of McCain's term. He was elected in 2016 to serve through 2022.

The only requirement on Ducey was that McCain’s replacement be a Republican. But in making the appointment, Ducey said McSally’s history as an Air Force combat pilot and her four years in the House positioned her as someone who can hit the ground running.

“Arizona needs someone who understands the critical issues, who can get to work from day one, and who embodies a spirit of service – of putting the people we represent before all else,” Ducey said in his remarks. “Martha McSally possesses these qualities.”

Ducey noted that McSally was supported by more than 1 million voters in November’s election – a fact also highlighted by the Arizona Democratic Party, which charged that “Washington, D.C., insiders hand-picked” McSally after Arizona voters rejected her. McSally finished with 1,135,200 votes to Sinema’s 1,191,100.

“After running a divisive, dishonest campaign for over a year, Arizona voters rejected McSally because they don’t trust her to fight for them when it matters most,” said Democratic Party Chair Felecia Rotellini in a prepared statement Tuesday.

“(Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and Martha McSally are ignoring the will of Arizona voters to advance their agenda of putting their wealthiest donors ahead of Arizonans’ access to health care,” her statement said.

Despite running a largely negative campaign against Sinema, McSally said Tuesday that she looked forward to “working with Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate, just like we did in the House.”

“There’s a lot of common ground between us, and I’m ready to hit it running,” McSally said. “Arizona’s two senators have always worked together, for decades. That’s our tradition and how we’re most effective, and that’s how I plan to serve.”

She went on to say that she had “done a lot of listening and … learned a lot” while crossing the state in her Senate campaign, about the issues Arizonans care about – but did not touch on any specific issues Tuesday.

While some Republicans had reportedly soured on McSally after her loss in November, Kyl on Tuesday called her “an excellent choice” and McCain’s widow, Cindy, said in a tweet that she respected Ducey’s choice of McSally to fill out her husband’s term.

“My husband’s greatest legacy was placing service to AZ and USA ahead of his own self-interest,” McCain wrote. “Arizonans will be pulling for her (McSally), hoping she will follow his example of selfless leadership.”

Kyl appointment criticized

While most political experts called it a smart move by Ducey, some also raised concerns about the uncertainty of how long Kyl would hold the office.

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“I think it’s ridiculous to have a temporary senator for only three to four months,” said Bill Scheel, a political consultant with Javelina, a Phoenix marketing and advocacy firm, at the time of Kyl's appointment. “If you’re not able or willing to commit to a full two years, you should have declined.”

Still others saw the short-term appointment as one intended to get Ducey past this fall’s elections by choosing an experienced senator with appeal among conservatives of all kinds.

Kyle Kondik, political analyst and managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said it “was probably wise of Ducey to make a non-controversial choice” before the election

“It’s a way to kick the can down the road and not have the Senate be a real factor in the upcoming election,” he said. “It keeps his options open for another appointment later next year because he picked someone who doesn’t want to be there long-term, and it probably insulates him from any real criticism in the short-term as he tries to win re-election.”

Speaking in September, Javelina CEO Catherine Alonzo called it “a very safe bet from Ducey.”

“This might just be a stopgap to get Ducey through the election,” Alonzo said.

Nathan Gonzales, editor of the newsletter Inside Elections, called Kyl’s appointment “the least dramatic appointment the governor could have made.”

“Whether it’s for the governor himself, or for the Republican Party, and even the McCain family,” Gonzales said, “it appears to have been a ‘do no harm’ appointment.”

Kyl served four terms in the House, from 1986-1994, before being elected to the first of three terms in the Senate.

Kyl was elected to the Senate in 1994, beating Sam Coppersmith, when Democrat Dennis DeConcini didn't run for a fourth term. He didn't face a Democrat in the 2000 election, and defeated Jim Pedersen, then the state Democratic Party chairman, by 10 points in his last election.

He left the Senate in 2013, and was succeeded by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona.

In addition to working as a high-powered lobbyist for Washington law firm Covington and Burling since then, Kyl has held a number of positions at Arizona State University, including a distinguished fellow in public service in ASU’s College of Public Programs and an O’Connor Distinguished Scholar of Law and Public Service in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

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Cronkite News reporter Bailey Vogt contributed to this story.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

McSally touted her military experience by flying in a vintage two-seat trainer between campaign announcement stops in January 2018.