Tim Steller: McSally 'a proven candidate,' but for what office?

2013-05-15T00:00:00Z 2013-05-15T12:54:30Z Tim Steller: McSally 'a proven candidate,' but for what office?Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For more than half an hour Tuesday, former Republican congressional candidate Martha McSally spoke enthusiastically to Pima County GOP activists.

Not a word about Benghazi.

Nothing on the IRS scandal.

Naught about The Associated Press affair.

Rather than exploring Obama-administration controversies, McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, devoted her comments to a detailed explanation of "remotely piloted aircraft" - what most of us call "drones" - and their role in U.S. military efforts. She testified about the same subject April 23 before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Her presentation seemed to support what McSally has been saying about her political plans: She really hasn't decided whether to run for office again, or which office she will seek if she does.

"I am very, very seriously thinking about running again," McSally said. "I do want to make sure that I'm serving in a place that I can make a difference, and that is winnable."

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat, beat McSally by less than 1 percent in the November general election in Congressional District 2. He was a sort of incumbent, having won the June 2012 special election to replace Gabrielle Giffords in a district that largely overlapped the current CD2.

That district roughly covers Tucson's eastern half, part of the northwest side, Green Valley and Cochise County.

"The fact that I went to bed election night 1,300 votes ahead and in the end lost by a rounding error shocked a lot of people. I think I've proven myself as a candidate," McSally said.

A candidate for what exactly isn't clear.

Last month at an event in Rhode Island, McSally said: "I am being strongly recruited to run for a variety of different positions. … I'm very seriously considering running again for Congress. There are people who have recruited me to run for governor of Arizona or Senate when Sen. McCain steps down."

When I spoke with her after the event Tuesday, McSally made it clear she is undecided.

"I really desire to fix things that are broken and make things that are wrong right," she told me. "There is a legitimate question, with Washington, D.C., as dysfunctional as it is right now, 'Is it the best use of your talents, even if you win, to get sucked in there?' "

McSally, 47, said she's spending 2013 working to pay off debt she incurred by taking off 2012 to campaign. She does motivational speaking and is writing a book.

Barber plans to announce whether he'll run for re-election by the end of the year. But Republicans aren't waiting for him.

Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee named him one of seven Democratic Congress members, along with Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, they hope to oust in 2014.

Barber spokesman Mark Kimble said the congressman is focusing on issues such as mental-health first-aid training and finding good measures of border security.

Democrats aren't sure McSally would be any stronger in a potential rematch than she was in 2012. Barber campaign adviser Rodd McLeod noted McSally's campaign has received five requests for additional information from the Federal Election Commission.

"People make mistakes on filings, but five letters in a year is a lot," he said.

Former Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers noted there was a short time between McSally's emergence as a legitimate contender and the general election. If she runs again, she'll be subject to more scrutiny, he said.

After listening to McSally Tuesday, local Republican Pete Schlegel said she's improved since last year.

"She didn't have good political bedside manners," he said. "She was brash. But that's all changed."

Still, she isn't serving up the red meat that might motivate partisans in a Republican primary. When she was finally asked about Benghazi in a question-and-answer session, McSally spoke for several minutes about the logistics of a military response to the attack on that U.S. Consulate in Libya.

Then she said almost as a warning to fellow GOP members: "There are legitimate criticisms here, but let's make sure we've got our facts straight. And let's make sure we are thoughtful and objective and we're going right for the core of the issue whenever we bring up criticism so that we have credibility."

Not exactly the words of a politician rousing her base.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.

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