As resumes go, it’s hard to fathom a better fit to fill John McCain’s Senate seat than the nation’s first female Air Force pilot to fly in combat — Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey apparently thought so, too. On Tuesday, he selected McSally to fill the seat until 2020, when a special election will be held to fill the remaining two years of McCain’s term. Assuming she wins and wants to run for re-election in 2022, McSally could conceivably spend the better part of the next four years running for the seat she’ll occupy effective Jan. 3, when she’s due to be sworn in.
If your head is swiveling, it may be because it was just last month that McSally lost an election bid for the Senate, when she was aiming to replace retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Hold on. Sen. Jon Kyl, whom Ducey appointed in September to fill McCain’s seat, announced last week that he’d only stay until the end of the year, giving someone else a chance to be in place for 2020.
Thus, McSally, who lost last month in a close race to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, will become her midterm opponent’s Senate colleague. McSally’s eventual rise hasn’t been without pitfalls, including opposition earlier this year from McCain’s family. McSally, who ran against Sinema on a pro-President Trump platform (despite previously criticizing the president), apparently insulted the family and McCain’s memory by failing to acknowledge him when touting legislation that was actually named for him — the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. It was perceived as a low blow, seemingly contrived to mimic Trump, who also withheld McCain’s name from mention during comments when he signed the act into law.
Upon Ducey’s recommendation, McSally recently met with Cindy McCain and apologized for her oversight. McCain reportedly accepted her apology.
Other Arizonans may not be so forgiving, though these would largely be Democrats who just rejected her for the office she’ll hold. But nearly 48 percent of voters preferred McSally and, besides, the governor is required by state law to select someone belonging to the same party as the person whose seat has been vacated.
Although McSally’s appointment was strictly a political calculation — she was considered the most likely to hold the seat against future challengers — even Ducey was initially hesitant. He and his team reportedly were upset by McSally’s post-election analysis, in which she blamed her loss on external factors rather than internal, strategic mistakes.
Ho-hum. Blah-blah-blah. Such nit-pickery is important if you’re a political operative or a talk-show host, but most normal people are more interested in politicians’ human aspect — their stories and experiences — and what they bring to the table.
McSally brings quite a lot, including that rarest of qualities in this town — humility. In person, she is almost bashful. At a recent social event we both attended, which included a request for each person to introduce themselves with a few autobiographical notes, McSally’s introduction was the shortest. “I’m a pilot and I like dogs,” she said.
Indeed, she does, as many will recall from her November concession video, recorded with McSally seated on her couch with her rescue golden retriever, Boomer, who seemed most interested in climbing on McSally’s lap. If Boomer didn’t steal all hearts, she certainly consolidated the canine vote.
In other words, McSally is the antithesis of the stereotypical fighter pilot as a cocky male sporting a Top Gun attitude. This despite having been first in her class at the Air War College, serving 26 years in the Air Force — including six deployments to Afghanistan — and retiring as a full colonel.
Seriously, folks, what more do you want in a senator?
If she has signaled too close an alignment with Trump, she can’t be accused of abandoning her principles. She’s a conservative, to be sure, and her voting record in the House reflects this. McSally voted favorably for Trump issues 97 percent of the time, compared with Sinema’s 63 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, which calculates such things. Further, I suspect you’ll find few Republican veterans seeking office who would criticize the commander in chief. One notable exception, of course, was McCain — a maverick to the last.
He was sui generis and his seat would be hard for anyone to fill. But then, there aren’t many McSallys out there either. With her, the Senate gets a fearless, scrappy, humble public servant, one of eight Republican woman in the Senate and the 25th in history, who also just happens to be single. Needless to say, any potential suitors must love dogs.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.