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The Skinny

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We Have Takeoff

Martha McSally is off into the wild blue yonder

Martha, we hardly knew you.

That's not to say that Congresswoman Martha McSally won't still be around—we'll probably see even more of her this year than we did in 2014. Back when the air war between her and the Democrat she would unseat that year, Ron Barber, had so many 30-second sorties that we couldn't turn on the TV without seeing the candidates in the months leading up to the November election. But that's seeing her on TV, where the message is often centered around Boomer, that adorable dog of hers.

In the three years McSally has been a Southern Arizona member of Congress, she's been busy making the rounds, but it has always been in controlled circumstances—speaking to captive audiences of employees in front of their bosses (hardly an environment that would encourage a challenging question) or behind closed doors in "roundtables" designed to demonstrate the Martha was taking the issues Very Seriously. We rarely heard much from her about solutions to the challenges that she learned about in these roundtables, but those closed-door meetings did the trick of making McSally look like she was doing something.

We certainly knew about McSally's history as the first woman to command an A-10 squadron, as well as ability to raise money for political campaigns.

But what we didn't know was that she's a straight talker who doesn't hesitate to take a position on issues. It came as a surprise to us, given that we've asked any number of questions about the future of undocumented immigrants, abortion rights or her support for Donald Trump—to name just a few—and watched as McSally sidestepped, danced and generally avoided a straight answer.

But in her announcement, McSally assured us that those days are over: "I will speak the way we expect senators from Arizona to speak—candidly, maybe a little bluntly at times, always truthfully, and never in the droning, empty platitudes of the politically correct.  They don't teach that stuff in fighter-pilot training, and I'm not about to learn it now."

It also came as a surprise to learn how much McSally loves President Donald Trump. She didn't seem to like him all that much during her 2016 campaign, when she refused to endorse him and declined to say whether she was gonna vote for him. She seemed pretty repulsed by Trump, saying the comments he made about grabbing women "by the pussy" were "disgusting" and "unacceptable."

But in her speech, she promised to be Trump's wingman, supporting him as he put "judges of excellence and integrity on the federal courts" (especially those who don't have even five minutes of courtroom experience), as he "reverse(s) the unconstitutional executive orders of his predecessor" (and issues his own) and he gets "serious about the border" (maybe by keeping those people from "shithole" countries out of the United States?).

McSally is a crafty political operator. Her takeoff last week was made for the movies, as she clambered into a WWII fighter plane and roared off to the Big City to continue her campaign launch. Earlier in the week, she got the lucky news that disgraced Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was entering the race. Assuming Joe follows through—and there are plenty of people who think he won't—former state lawmaker Kelli Ward's Senate campaign is now in big trouble. Ward, a fierce campaigner who can light up an audience of conservatives, was running as the hardest of the hard right, no compromise and no deviation from the Trump agenda. She'd managed to drive out Jeff Flake, whose many heresies had left his brand toxic on the party's right side. And given how GOP voters have been voting for some terrible candidates these days, Ward wasn't going to be easily knocked down by McSally. But many of her potential voters will flock to Joe—and her patron saint, Steve Bannon, has been excommunicated, leading to the farcical spectacle of Ward pretending she barely knows the guy.

At this point, we'd say that McSally is the odds-on favorite to win the Senate seat in November against likely Democratic nominee Krysten Sinema. But it's also obvious that unlike John McCain or Jeff Flake, McSally is not going to stand up to Trump. Instead—like most Republicans these days—she'll enable him. That was obvious when McSally told reporters she wasn't troubled by reports that Trump had once again revealed his racist leanings when he called Haiti and African countries "shitholes" during an immigration policy discussion with U.S. senators. McSally brushed those words aside as "salty language" rather than, as Utah Republican Congresswoman Mia Love put it: "unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation's values."

That, Congresswoman McSally, is real leadership. We hope to see it from you one day.

CORRECTIONS

A few corrections from last week's Skinny: State lawmaker Steve Montenegro was considering challenging Secretary of State Michele Reagan but has instead set his sights on Congress. Former state lawmaker Tom Chabin has decided against running for Arizona Corporation Commission this year. And Republican organizer Sergio Arellano, who is considering a challenge to Congressman Raul Grijalva, left the employ of Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy last month.

We know we promised last week that we'd have a roundup of candidates for the Arizona Legislature in this edition, but that's gonna have to wait until next week. Stay tuned!

The televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel begins a new season on Feb. 2. The show can be seen at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Creative Tucson network, Cox Channel 20 and Xfinity Channel 74. The TV show repeats Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. and Thursday nights at 6:30 p.m. The radio edition of Zona Politics airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM.

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