U.S. Rep. Martha McSally poses for a photo with a supporter after announcing her candidacy for the Senate.

Donning a bright-blue flight suit with a World War II-era plane behind her, Martha McSally officially launched her campaign for the U.S. Senate on Friday.

The two-term House Republican officially put an end to the worst-kept secret in state politics, releasing a military-themed video announcing her run to replace Sen. Jeff Flake on Youtube in the pre-dawn hours just before the morning TV news programs.

The video features a snippet of President Trump praising McSally in a Rose Garden ceremony, and McSally mentioning that, like the president, she’s tired of politically correct politicians and their “B.S.” excuses.

“I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done,” she says in the video, where she admits to “talking like a fighter pilot.”

The video also has McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, saying she “refused to bow down to Sharia law,” a reference to her successful fight with the Department of Defense against having to wear Muslim robes while serving in Saudi Arabia.

She said she would work to protect Arizona jobs, secure the border and protect the A-10 aircraft, the mainstay at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the plane she flew as a combat pilot.

In a private hanger at the Tucson International Airport, McSally briefly highlighted her accomplishments during her 26 years of military service and her three years in Congress before revealing her campaign strategy to a mostly friendly crowd of more than 100 and about two-dozen journalists.

“If you want to know my campaign strategy, it’s three simple words from the old Air Force mission statement. These next 10 months, I’m going to “fly, fight and win,” McSally said.

A portion of her speech in Tucson would be spent praising Trump on several key policy accomplishments in his first year in office. If elected, McSally said she’d be Trump’s wingman in the Senate.

“You better believe that I will keep working with President Trump to finally get things done for the good of our country,” McSally said.

She also had campaign announcements on Friday in Phoenix and Prescott.

Touts voting record

Talking to reporters after the Tucson event, McSally touted her voting record as one of the most reliable in Arizona for Trump. But she sidestepped a follow-up question on what she thought about his comments Thursday labeling Haiti and African countries “shitholes.”

“I speak a little salty behind closed doors at times as well, so I’m not going to throw the first stone on using any language,” McSally said.

She then reminded reporters the president has denied making those remarks. “I guess there is a dispute as to what was actually said,” she said.

The 9 a.m. event, while held on private property, was advertised as open to the public. However, by the end of the event, several people attending were escorted out by law enforcement.

One of them was congressional candidate Mary Matiella, who held the civilian equivalent rank of a four-star general when working for the Department of Defense. She is running for the Congressional District 2 seat that McSally now represents.

Matiella, along with several other women who had invitations, said they were identified by McSally’s staff and escorted out of the hanger by officers despite their pleas to stay.

McSally enters a crowded Republican midterm primary, to be held in August, that includes the self-described “America’s toughest sheriff” Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by Trump after he was convicted of ignoring a federal judge’s order related to racial profiling; and former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who ran against Sen. John McCain in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who represents Congressional District 9, has also entered the race on the Democratic side, bringing with her a well-funded campaign.

The event ended with McSally piloting a fully restored silver AT-6 plane, which McSally said she promised the owners that it would be returned “with a few more miles on it, no scratches and an unused parachute.”

Open race for CD2

Her Senate run leaves an open CD2 election, with six Democrats already running to replace her.

With roughly eight months before the primaries, several candidates have amassed sizable war chests and have hired professional campaign consultants to manage day-to-day operations.

Candidates include: former state Sen. Bruce Wheeler, former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, emergency room Dr. Matt Heinz, businessman Billy Kovacs, Cochise County rancher Barbara Sherry and Matiella.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may have tipped its hand Friday on which candidate it favors, name-dropping Kirkpatrick in a tweet reacting to McSally’s announcement.

So far, only one Republican has stepped up to run in CD2 — Lea Márquez Peterson. The president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce entered the race several weeks ago amid speculation over McSally’s Senate bid.

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller briefly flirted with the idea of running in the GOP primary for CD2, but ended speculation Friday by telling the Star she had decided against it.

On Friday afternoon, election forecaster Cook Political Report moved its rating of the open seat in CD2 from tossup to leans Democrat.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


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