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What the Devil won't tell you

Just who are McSally & Sinema? We won't find out soon

Arizona Senate race features would-be superstars reduced to shapeshifters

The 2018 Arizona campaign for the U.S. Senate features a pair of charismatic would-be superstars. U.S. Reps. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema both boast big brains and deep substance. They're both natural leaders, hard workers and have ambition, which should not be a dirty word when discussing women. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, in a leader.

Yet for all their personal prowess, we have a teensy problem with Sinema and McSally: We have no idea who they really are anymore because they keep mutating right in front of us.

Backstories? Check. McSally was the first woman in the U.S. military to command a fighter squadron just a decade or so after the old boys network scoffed that women couldn't handle combat missions. Sinema? Sinema grew up so poor she lived in an abandoned gas station for two years and still managed to earn herself a law degree and Ph.D. in social work.

McSally and Sinema headline an Arizona general election ballot that will also include a sleeper race pitting Democrat David Garcia versus Gov. Doug Ducey. In southeastern Arizona, former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick trotted to an easy victory in her primary race to replace McSally. She'll face Lea Marquez Peterson, who is picking a bad year to make her first run for Congress, with winds at the Democratic Party's back in a district that voted big for Hillary Clinton.

In Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, 10,000 more Democrats voted in this primary than Republicans, even with a big race at the top of the ballot between McSally, former state Rep. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio drawing out more Republicans statewide. Somehow, state Sen. Steve Farley's campaign against Garcia never caught fire.

McSally and Sinema will be the marquee race in Arizona and one of the most watched nationally because a Sinema victory (she leads in early polls) is crucial to Democrats hopes to retake the Senate.

The race could be for the ages. Instead it's about right for the age.

Green or Blue?

I first saw Sinema on the floor of the Arizona State Legislature. It was opening day of the 2006 session and Sinema was delivering an impassioned plea for any number of liberal causes. I remember thinking: “Wow, is she liberal.” Those were her early days when she stressed her bisexuality in a legislative district with a substantial gay population. She didn’t strike anyone in her early legislative days as a “Third Way” Democrat.

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What was also apparent about Sinema to anyone who knew her was she wanted to climb the ladder. I say, good for her. She clearly had the political smarts to do it. Not only should a woman have that kind of ambition, but should feel God, himself, ordained her to lead. Freaking men think that all the damn time.

She realized her ambition coincidentally with shedding her Green Party roots and hanging out with the moderate coalition of Blue Dogs.

The woman who felt herself a crusader for justice wound up voting with Donald Trump 50 percent of the time, according to the political website fivethirtyeight.com. Some of this shouldn’t make liberals too crazy. It includes votes on hurricane relief and some government extensions but it also includes a lot of nipping at immigrants at the margins, which might be hard to explain in less than 15 seconds on the campaign trail. She threw in with the crowd shutting the government down over Obamacare in 2013.

Sinema's least liberal (small “l”) moment came in 2015, when she voted to lock Syrians and Iraqis fleeing from ISIS out of the U.S., until the vetting process could be improved. Jesus H., it was already a two-year process. What she really did was give in to racist jackasses who can’t tell a refugee from a despot if both are a color other than white.

That vote was nativist shite, unless her goal was to be a senator in a still reddish state.

Do fear the Reaper

McSally served ably representing Southeastern Arizona. That she was a bit too conservative for her her district wasn’t a huge deal in 2014. That was a Red Tide and U.S. Rep. Ron Barber is a sweetheart of a guy who was a terrible campaigner. McSally didn’t necessarily move to the center for her general elections, but she eschewed the hard right. She was the only Republican in the Arizona House delegation not to join the Freedom Caucus. She opposed the Iran nuclear deal but actually laid out why, and it was for reasons more involved than simply because “Obama did it.” That's more than I can say for most Republicans at the time.

She was a woman who could throw her arms up at her party’s popular image with lines like: “Let’s stop picking on poor mothers. Am I the only one around here who knows someone on food stamps?”

McSally has never said if she voted for Trump ; she refused to endorse his candidacy and even has heralded Congress as a “co-equal branch” that shouldn’t be steamrolled by the executive.

Then McSally set her sights on the U.S. Senate at the very moment the Republican Party morphed into a Big Orange Cult, devoted to its charismatic leader Donald John Trump. Failure to genuflect to the leader is lethal and they all fear the reaper.

Unfortunately, President Trump has chosen to test the loyalty of his supporters through his own personal shallowness rather than any effort to transcend a divide.

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Real things

Both McSally and Sinema are going where the polls take them under the shadow of two men: Trump and the newly late U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose death over the weekend left a country wondering what happened to mavericks.

Trump and McCain are polar opposites but both have proven that voters dig authenticity. They can smell a consumer product and reject it. The difference between the two is that McCain encouraged others to find their own voice. Trump just wants his minions to echo his own words and actions. He won’t allow authenticity in anyone but himself.

So we don’t know who McSally really is and won’t know prior to Election Day because she has a line to toe, lest her base fail to turn out for her. Is she an economic nationalist devoted to nativism? Is she a closet McCain? Or a evangelized Trumpet?

I know exactly what happened to Sinema because it’s what happens to every Democrat who wants to win independent voters in a red state or district. The pollsters and image consultants get ahold of these candidates and tell them “from now on, you don’t believe in anything other than what the numbers tell you.”

Sinema has bought into the idea that the price Democrats pay for ambition is to sell themselves as a piece of consumer electronics. She will do whatever you tell her to do so long is its in her programming. She’ll even do some liberal stuff on the sly, when no one is watching.

Is the enemy us?

Then again, maybe the problem is us. The voters get what the voters want, don’t they? Trump voters seem to be saying they want obedience to the leader, with political individuality stripped away to represent the party of individual rights (insert irony here). True progressives want Medicare for All, the federal government to provide free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage. Can someone oppose that without being a racist? Do centrist voters want candidates who only agree with them and, more importantly, not disagree with them on key issues?

Do voters create this reality by demanding fealty? Unless we’re going to start growing politicians in labs, we are never going to get someone who agrees with us on everything. Demanding obedience as part of the transaction to put someone in power, means you are just electing a sell-out. They’re selling out to you, because they need you. The minute they get a better offer, they’ll cash you out for the next big thing.

I tend to think voters are more complicated then they let on, so McSally and Sinema needn’t be so scared. Both women are extraordinarily talented and super smart. They can try showing the voters their true selves. I swear to God, there are no failed Senate candidates in line at the food bank. They can die with their boots on. They might find they live longer.

It would be one thing if Sinema were a true moderate and acted accordingly. U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran is a former Republican, now a Democratic congressman, hanging out in Sedona and no doubt plotting his own 2020 run for the U.S. Senate. Good for him.

It would be fine, I guess, if McSally were an original MAGA type. Maybe she could find less grievance and more empowerment in the strictures of the Trumpian Way and lead the next phase of it.

I just don’t think either one of them are what they are pretending to be and that’s a shame.

History, take five

I have a theory that people run for office, not so much to serve, but to be a part of history or the making of it. Politicians see themselves in romantic terms as prepared to lead the changes that will alter the decades that follow.

The problem is, that hardly ever happens via following the expedient. Sometimes politicians make history because they know popular opinion but something's not right with it. Something smells fishy. Something doesn’t ring right. So they stiffen their spines and listen to the voice that only seems to speak to them. It tells them to tempt the furies, and off they go with sword held high, charging against the odds.

Neither Sinema nor McSally seem eager for that kind of political risk.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.


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