Martha McSally, the establishment favorite in the Republican primary for Jeff Flake’s Senate seat in Arizona, announced her candidacy on Friday afternoon by flying a World War II–era plane on a three-city tour of the state, where she told Washington Republicans to “grow a pair of ovaries.”
McSally, the first female combat pilot in the U.S., is walking into a thorny Senate race, complicated by Trump and his capricious allegiances. And the race is already crowded. Former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio scooped McSally’s long-anticipated announcement this week when he announced his own candidacy. And another candidate already has Trump’s stamp of approval: Kelli Ward, known for entertaining conspiracy theories about chemtrails and supporting the Bundys.
Ward and Arpaio will both be vying for the anti-establishment vote in the Republican primary, but it looks as though Arpaio, with his national name recognition and media-savvy, could have the capacity to squeeze out Ward. And he might even be competitive challenger to McSally: Very early polls show him pulling in 29 percent of the vote to McSally’s 31 percent, a statistical tie.
Plus, Trump and Arpaio go way back. Both were “birthers,” peddling conspiracy theories that former president Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. — a belief Arpaio still holds. And President Trump granted Arpaio a pardon on a federal racial profiling conviction, a move that was interpreted by critics as rewarding Arpaio’s early support for Trump’s presidential campaign.
Though McSally is considered the more moderate candidate, that's a relative categorization. In her video announcement, posted to YouTube on Friday morning, she bragged about refusing to “bow down to Sharia law” (she sued the U.S. government over its policy of requiring women stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear chadors) and having told Washington Republicans to “grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done.” Trump is also featured prominently in the video.
Whoever wins the Republican primary will likely face off against Democratic U.S. House Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Democrats have only held a Senate seat in Arizona once in the last half century, but Sinema is a compelling candidate — she's a lapsed Mormon who, as a child, lived for a time in an abandoned gas station in Florida. And without a clear nominee in the Republican race, she might even have a shot.