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What the Devil won't tell you

Quick questions raised by McSally's appointment to Senate

So everyone is a winner and there are participation awards in the Republican Party.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Martha McSally to serve the next two years of U.S. Sen. John McCain’s term, and then she will face election in 2020. There’s no “re-” involved.

McCain died in August when brain cancer got the best of the Maverick, and the nation mourned. Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl to take McCain’s place but Kyl decided to step down at the end of the year.

So Ducey picked the woman who finished a very close second in the November election. The race that went into extra innings because the vote counting continued for days after Election Day. So it was really, really tight.

Well now, I’m on deadline and McSally’s consolation prize — er,  appointment — means I have some questions.

1. Is this a first?

Arizona, which had never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate, will now will send two simultaneously to sit in the 116th Congress. That’s fine and all — but Arizona was also the first state to, in the same year, elect women to serve as governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction. That as the "Fab Five" of 1998. So it’s not like we’ve shattered some glass ceiling. We've entrusted important elected positions to women before.

What I think we have done – and I’m on deadline and only had a chance to give a cursory look – is appoint the first-ever U.S. senator who lost the previous election to serve alongside the candidate who beat them.

Since 1913, when the 17th Amendment required senators be directly elected by the people, just south of 200 senators have been appointed by governors. I have not researched each and every one to see if any lost before gaining the appointment.

The U.S. Senate website notes which appointed senators went on to win, lose or just packed it in at the end of their term. The site doesn’t say anything about any of them having lost the previous election.

Two Idaho senators were appointed after having lost an election but in neither case did they take their seats at the beginning of the session that they would have won had they not lost but won anyway because everyone gets a prize. If you can follow that.

2. Are they going to play well with one another?

McSally will now serve alongside the woman she basically accused of treason in a pink tutu. 

Sinema accused McSally of wanting to privatize Social Security, which she hadn't. 

They've had all of eight seconds to cool off so, yeah, this could be a bit awkward.

There used to be something called the Danforth Rule that said no sitting senator should campaign against another sitting senator because that particular 100-person chamber is such an exclusive club. They share their own dining room. They share their own gym. It’s a relatively small group who share certain customs – like hating Ted Cruz.

It’s hard to call someone those kinds of names and then work with them like U.S. senators have to work together.

Now we have a pair who spent the entire fall tearing strips of flesh off each other, and now must serve together.

And they really kinda hafta cooperate. This isn’t like fanatical right-wing U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar who gets to avoid super-lib U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva if they so choose. Their districts do border one another but it’s not like anyone lives where they touch. 

McSally and Sinema will have to regularly deal with each other like senior and junior senators have for more than 200 years.

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3. Is McSally a dead woman walking?

The Democrats – in one of the least gracious reactions to news of the news of the day – showed they seem to think so.

In fact, the political organization representing Senate Democrats welcomed McSally to the world’s greatest deliberative body by putting a crosshairs on her noggin.

"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."

Stay classy, Dems. If you are that confident, it's necessary to talk trash.

Passalacqua has a point, though, and one that I made just a couple days ago. I understand I'm being redundant.

McSally became the first Republican Senate candidate to lose to a Democrat in 30 years in this state, and it was for one reason that goes by three names: Donald John Trump.

She didn’t lose because she was a Tucsonan. She didn’t lose because she wasn't conservative enough. She didn’t lose because she ran a horrible campaign. She didn’t lose because she lets her dog on the couch. She lost because it was impossible to run a good campaign that chased its base and Trumpaphobic swing voters at the same time.

That geometry isn’t going to change between now and 2020, when McSally will have to run again so voters can have their say as to who fills out the rest of McCain’s term. And yes, because the gods are cruel, if she were to win that election, she would have to run yet again in 2022 because that’s when McCain's term would have been up. Although she's gotten herself two terms in the House, McSally's already lost more election cycles than she's won.

Hope she's ready to raise Senate-style cash within a House of Representatives time frame.

4.What does the McCain fam think of this appointment?

McSally and McCain were both career military and both pilots of single-seat strike aircraft. McCain faced life as a prisoner of war in ways that only can be described as heroic. McSally was the first woman to fly in combat and command a combat squadron.

On the other hand those readers who saw Meghan McCain’s reaction to McSally on The View … whew. McSally stood by Donald Trump as he signed the McCain Defense Appropriation bill into law, spoke about how important it was and failed to mention McCain’s name.

The fam was not pleased, apparently.

Meghan McCain’s husband, conservative writer Ben Domenech, went on the record dissing McSally, too.

“McSally strikes me as an unwise choice for a number of reasons. She's like an NFL team that plays down to its opponents' level - and she'll be tasked with running for re-election immediately.”

McSally met Friday with Cindy McCain to apologize for the snub. 

On some level Cindy has been around politics long enough to understand the math. McSally had to run from McCain to embrace the GOP base. That base chose allegiance to Trump over McCain, who had broken with the party five too many times to maintain posthumous loyalty among the right wing. It makes sense politically.

I just don’t get the impression that the widow particularly gives a crap about base politics.

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Junior partners

Having written this, I expect McSally and Sinema to play nice and the McCains to put on a polite face.

Both are going to have to figure out how to appeal to their voters and swing voters, while perhaps even convincing a couple folks in the other party they sprout neither cloven hooves or the bare the mark of the beast.

Besides, both have work to do that doesn’t involve matters of global significance.

In every other state, there is a senior senator who is out front and handling Russia, Iraq and flies to Davos. Then there’s the junior senator who is the domestic engineer and could use just a little help because the senior senator doesn’t know how much the junior senator does for such little appreciation. Do they think the socks put themselves in the hamper, Goddammit?

Arizona offered an exaggerated example of how this dynamic worked. One of the reasons I have a soft spot for Kyl is that he was junior senator to McCain’s senior-ness.

So, McCain handled the national brand. He was Senator America and, at times, treated Arizona like the place where he would run into Meghan and Cindy for some strange reason (What are all those cactuses doing in New Hampshire?)

Meanwhile, Kyl had to know how how much water Well No. 14 pumped for the City of Flagstaff, which pothole had to be fixed at at East Speedway and North Palo Verde and had to be able to quote chapter and verse “Vadose Zone” monitoring of the Safford Landfill.

Functionally, Arizona is going to have two showroom-fresh new senators who are used to serving their little bits of the state and now have to figure out the whole damn thing.

The fastest way to gain favor among the hostile is to fix the aforementioned pothole and get the damned well working with that grant from that pot of money everyone forgot about.

They’ll both be junior partners and will need each other to figure out the landscape they both now have the honor to serve.

Luckily, they’ll each have a study partner … even if one is a traitor.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

McSally speaking the Saturday before Election Day in Saddlebrooke.


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