U.S. Rep. Martha McSally

Rep. Martha McSally’s apparent decision opens up the race for the U.S. House in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star 2017

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally has told Republican colleagues that she’s running for Sen. Jeff Flake’s open seat next year, meaning there will be someone new representing Southern Arizona’s hotly contested Congressional District 2.

The news didn’t come from McSally but instead from U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican colleague in Congressional District 6, who confirmed to reporters for several news outlets that the retired Air Force colonel said she was planning to enter the Senate race.

McSally could not be reached for comment and has not made a formal announcement about her plans. Calls to her campaign office, as well as to her congressional office in Tucson, went unreturned Tuesday.

Former state Sen. Kelli Ward and several other Republican candidates have already announced they were running for Flake’s seat in the GOP primary.

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat who represents Congressional District 9, announced before Flake decided not to run again that she was running for the Senate seat.

McSally is already facing resistance from President Trump supporters. Last week, the Great America Alliance PAC put out a digital ad and dedicated website that criticized McSally for “supporting amnesty for illegals.”

Ward challenged Sen. John McCain last year and lost, but Trump has offered support for her candidacy even though he did not endorse her. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, however, endorsed Ward last month.

A recent Arizona High Ground poll showed Sinema with a seven-point lead among would-be voters who were asked their preference in a hypothetical matchup in the general election between Ward and Sinema.

McSally has demonstrated her ability to raise considerable sums of money from across the country. The latest figures show McSally has about $1.4 million in her campaign account.

Sinema has about $4.2 million in her campaign chest and Ward has about $285,000, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Democrats were quick to claim they pushed McSally out of the CD2 race, arguing McSally was facing an uphill battle to keep her seat. The CD2 race was already expected to be hotly contested next year with both national parties expecting to win the seat.

Herschel Fink, Arizona Democratic Party executive director, said McSally is abandoning her re-election campaign as congressional experts declared the CD2 race to be a toss-up between McSally and several Democratic challengers, including former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.

“Martha McSally quickly found out CD2 is no place for Trump flunkies,” said Fink.

Kirkpatrick campaign adviser Rodd McLeod notes that a poll from May had McSally losing by five points to Kirkpatrick in a hypothetical match-up.

“Martha McSally is smart enough to know she started down five points and wasn’t going to beat Ann Kirkpatrick,” said McLeod. “Tucson voters had wised up to McSally’s ‘make-believe moderate’ act, and Ann is a battle-tested champion for every Arizonan who has gotten a raw deal.”

Matt Heinz, a Tucson doctor who ran against McSally last year, said he is focused on the next Republican to run in the evenly divided district.

“McSally may be gone, but with Donald Trump still in the White House, Southern Arizona’s voice must be heard on gun violence, “dreamers” and the environment,” Heinz said.

Other Democrats running in CD2 include former state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, retired Assistant Secretary of the Army Mary Matiella, businessman Billy Kovacs and Barbara Sherry, a rancher from McNeal.

With the apparent departure of McSally from the Republican side of the CD2 race, a number of former and current local elected officials and community leaders are being discussed as possible candidates.

They include state Rep. Todd Clodfelter; Lea Marquez-Peterson, president/CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Pima County Supervisors Ally Miller and Steve Christy; former state Reps. Gail Griffin, Ethan Orr and David Gowan; and former state Sen. Frank Antenori.

Marquez-Peterson said she’s received many calls encouraging her to run. She is actively considering jumping in the CD2 race if McSally enters the Senate fray, talking the possibility over with her family, she said.

Marquez-Peterson’s statewide profile has grown along with the political fortunes of Gov. Doug Ducey. She was an early supporter of Ducey and has been a close adviser and ally during his governorship.

“I’m flattered by all the emails, calls and texts I’m receiving encouraging me to run. I’m still deciding and weighing the options with the family’s input,” she said. “I really just need to sit with my family and decide if this is something we want to take on.”

Auto dealer Jim Click, a major Republican donor and fundraiser, said he would support Marquez-Peterson if she joins the race. “I think she would be perfect for that district,” he said.

Click also expressed enthusiasm for McSally’s possible run for Senate. “I sure hope she runs. I think she would be a great U.S. senator,” Click said. “If she gets in the race, I will be a big supporter.”

Christy said he was surprised to hear his name being discussed as a possible congressional candidate. He said he is open to meeting with supporters and listening to those who want him to run. With less than a year in office, he said it would be a tough decision.

“I love being a supervisor,” he said.

Star columnist Tim Steller and The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson

Reporter

Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.