The Spectacle Blog

Republican Martha McSally: An Arizona Classic

By on 6.10.14 | 2:32PM

Republican Martha McSally is a retired colonel—the first woman to fly in combat for the Air Force—and a classic Arizonan running as a moderate in the state's Second Congressional District.

McSally can also be seen running under the hot sun and through the cactus and fearsome cat-claw of the Arizona desert in her campaign ad. She impressed Politico with her forceful personality and reticence about issues:

“When I have a staff and I’m in Congress, I’m going to do everything I can to actually help form the issues in front of us instead of having to answer, ‘Are you going to run on this? Are you going to run on that?’” she said.

What’s interesting about McSally is not so much her positions on issues (pro-guns, pro-traditional marriage, pro-life, pro-repealing Obamacare), but rather how she is running her campaign, and how classically Arizona it all is. Arizona has long had a just-plain-ornery streak that likes leaders who say things like “Heck, yeah!” in interviews with Politico, or maybe even an occasional “Git ‘er done!” There’s a part of Arizona, perhaps the part that spends too much time in 120 degree-heat, that is not only willing to buck the establishment but eager to do it.

Consider Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, who took office after Janet Napolitano followed Obama to Washington in 2009. Brewer, as a less-known Republican secretary of state stepping in to fill in a Democrat’s seat, was expected to finish the term and step down.

But remember, this is the state that produced Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the United States Supreme Court.

Brewer signed a controversial immigration bill in 2010 that brought down the ire of the nation, caused California schoolchildren to go on strike (a slightly puzzling response to a law passed by the Arizona legislature, but we’ll let that pass), and put her in both the state and national spotlight for better or for worse. Five years later, she made a name for herself by loudly protesting national health care and publicly giving Obama her opinion on border issues.

Add in John McCain, the “maverick” senator, and, of course, Barry Goldwater. Although Goldwater lost the presidency by a landslide in 1964, he ushered in the conservative era that elected Reagan and was just the sort of independent leader Arizonans like to vote for. Both senators got as many terms as they wanted from Arizona even after the nation said no.

Arizona is also home to "America's toughest sheriff," Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe is most famous for “tent city” prisons and marching convicts through Phoenix in pink underwear to save the state money. Although he faces open hostility from opinion leaders nationwide, he has been elected in Maricopa County six times.

The success of unorthodox people like Sheriff Joe, the nationwide controversy over the immigration bill, last year's vetoed legislation to shield the religious rights of business owners, and the state's now-puzzling resistance to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, all say something about the Arizona electorate.

Whether Martha McSally wins this election is up to the voters of Tucson, but her decision to campaign on a platform of "heck, yeah!" is business as usual for the state.

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