The three Republicans running in Congressional District 2 turned their sights on President Obama Thursday night, eager to comment on a new strategy in Iraq.

Small-business owner Shelley Kais, retired Air Force Colonel Martha McSally and retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Wooten all were critical of the administration, telling an audience in Vail the U.S. has been absent on the world stage.

Wooten began discussing the issue by lamenting that only 17 percent of the U.S. Congress has served in the military.

The U.S. had a chance to fight the Islamic militant group in Iraq known as ISIS in its more nascent of stages, as their forces left Syrian cities to go into Iraq, he said.

“We had the opportunity, ladies and gentleman,” Wooten said, “to stop them cold in their tracks, to decimate them and destroy them. And we had the weapons to do it.”

He apologized for previously stating that Obama was missing in action from the international issues, saying it was more accurate to label the President as absent without leave.

“But when you have a commander in chief that lacks a spine — yes, I said it — this is what we have,” Wooten said.

McSally said she believes the U.S. could have done more to support more moderate rebel forces when they first took up arms against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

She said the failure can be traced to the current leadership in Washington, D.C.” I think we can agree that the world is increasingly a dangerous place and America is failing to lead right now. The best thing that the people of CD2 can do in order to address this issue is to elect someone to Congress who understands the issue of national security,” McSally said.

Kais warned of a larger, much more local problem, stemming from instability in the Middle East: the possibility of Islamic terrorists slipping into the country, coming up through Mexico and into Southern Arizona.

“The fact we don’t have a secure border allows ISIS recruiters to show up right here,” Kais said.

All three Republicans touted their personal history as to why they were the right choice to change the status quo in Congress.

“Right now, we have people in Washington, D.C. that are representing special interests and are more concerned about their next election instead of the next generation,” McSally said. McSally reminded the audience of her fight with the Pentagon.

“I’m going to bring leadership that I’ve showed in the military and leadership that I showed when I took on the Pentagon — when I thought there was a policy that was wrong, that was making our servicewomen wear Muslim garb in Saudi Arabia.”

Trying to one-up his Republican rival, Wooten took credit for reversing a budget deal in 2013 that cut benefits for veterans.

A powerful letter written by Wooten to Rep. Paul Ryan went viral, forcing Congress to eventually reverse the cuts.

Everyone in the audience who collects a retirement check for their military service has him to thank, he said.

“You’re welcome,” Wooten said.

Kais said she is already on the clock, claiming an op-ed piece she wrote last week in the Green Valley News and Sun has prompted federal officials to acknowledge a health problem at the border.

Shortly after her piece on the cost of treating illegal immigrants ran, Kais told the crowd, federal officials acknowledged that they have been treating cases of tuberculosis. She estimates it costs $17,000 to treat a single case.

Kais has often focused on problems at the border during debates, suggesting the federal government predicted a surge of illegal immigrants — particularly unaccompanied minors — and has slowly adjusted the federal budget in preparation to handle such a crisis.

The winner of the Republican primary on Aug. 26 will face Democrat Ron Barber, who is seeking a second term.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson