Rep. Martha McSally is in the lead at 30 percent for the Senate race, with Joe Arpaio at 22 percent and Kelli Ward trailing at 18 percent, according to a new statewide poll.
The race may come down to who President Donald Trump decides to endorse, according to Jim Nintzel, a reporter for Tucson Weekly. In the past, McSally has kept her distance from the president. She didn’t endorse his presidency and never publicly stated who she voted for in the 2016 presidential election. However, while preparing for this race, McSally is now showing her support for Trump, says Nintzel, who was one of the first people to sit down and talk with the congresswoman when she returned to Arizona.
“In Congress, she’s been somebody who’s adopted a fairly moderate affectation – at least on the campaign trail,” Nintzel says. He points out that McSally is able to draw a crowd that is typically a third Republican, a third Democrat and a third Independent.
Nintzel believes Ward will be the first to be kicked out of the race. With Arpaio running, it splits Ward’s base in two, he says, which is a major advantage for McSally.
McSally was in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years, and was the first female squad leader in the Air Force. McSally first ran for Congress in 2012 but lost. She later won the state’s 2nd district seat in 2014 and was re-elected in 2016.
Guests on Arizona Horizon last week spoke about the chances of Arpaio winning the Senate seat.
>>THE RACE TO SUCCEED U.S. SENATOR JEFF FLAKE BECAME MORE INTERESTING LAST WEEK WITH THE CANDIDACIES OF REPUBLICAN CONGRESSWOMAN MARTHA MCSALLY AND FORMER MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO. HERE NOW TO TALK SPECIFICALLY ABOUT MCSALLY'S PRESENCE IN THE RACE IS JIM NINTZEL, WHO'S COVERED MCSALLY FOR THE TUCSON WEEKLY. Good to see you again.
JIM NINTZEL: Great to be back here in the big city.
TED SIMONS: You were the first person to interview Martha McSally when no one knew who she was, right?
JIM NINTZEL: I think that's true. I sat down with Martha when she first came back from to Arizona as she was teaching in Europe at a military installation. She came back to Arizona when Gabby Giffords announced she was stepping down from congress and jumped into special election. I was one of the first people to sit down with her.
TED SIMONS: So who is Martha McSally and how has she positioned herself in congress?
JIM NINTZEL: In congress, she’s been somebody who adopted a fairly moderate affectation at least on the campaign trail, although she’s voted in a very conservative fashion. She is a former pilot for the A10, which first brought her to Tucson, she was the first female squadron leader. She has a wonderful biography for a politician. She ended up leaving the military and when saw the opportunity for congress. she came here, lost a couple of races and finally managed to win in 2010.
TED SIMONS: Heard criticism that her position seemed to change with the situation. Is that valid?
JIM NINTZEL: I think so. Depending on the audience she's talking to you see different Martha McSallys. For example when she was running in 2012 in congressional district two, which is split up pretty evenly. One-third democrat, one-third republican, one-third independent. She kept her distance from Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. She would not endorse him and she wouldn’t say if she was voting for him. She complained later in an address to bankers that she couldn’t understand why people kept linking her to him. That was earlier this year or early last year. Then, when she jumped into the race saying she's going to be Donald Trump's wingman, essentially.
TED SIMONS: I was going to say there's no distance now. Was the announcement Friday a surprise?
JIM NINTZEL: Not at all. This was the worst kept secret in Arizona politics. She said she was going to be running for several months before she launched.
TED SIMONS: With that in mind, why did she wait so long?
JIM NINTZEL: You have to ask Martha that, but I suspect it has to do with wanting everything in place, getting past the holidays, dealing with the business they are doing in congress and as you saw when she finally made her announcement last week, she had an old World War II fighter plane she climbed into. There was a lot of stage craft involved with it and I think they wanted to announce on their terms.
TED SIMONS: Before we get more into the senate race, she was running for reelection in congressional district two. What does it do to that race?
JIM NINTZEL: That’s really interesting as well. We had five candidates on the democratic side running down there, two former state lawmakers Anne KirkPatrick the former congresswoman is running, a couple of other candidates in that race. Martha herself said she was she would have a challenging race in that particular district in 2018. Now she's out of the race. It's swung to lean democrats according to some forecasters. You have one republican candidate in the race, Leah Marcus Peterson, who is the head of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of commerce and a very competent administrator.
TED SIMONS: Do you think republican establishment is happy that Martha McSally left that and possibly could give that congressional district to democrats in a sense that she's that much of a lock, as far as republicans are concerned, to become the next U.S. senator?
JIM NINTZEL: That's a great question. I suspect some people would like to hang on to that congressional seat and are not happy to see McSally leave. On the other hand, I suspect members of the republican establishment that weren’t excited about Kelli ward potentially being the next U.S. senator driving Jeff Flake out of the race, so they are probablyt happy to see her.
TED SIMONS: Let’s go more on this. We got the Senate race with Kelli ward, Joe Arpaio and Martha McSally, on democratic side, you’ve got a Kyrsten Sinema as the front runner there. How is this shaping up?
JIM NINTZEL: Well if you ask me, and it's still early, Kelli ward is in a lot of trouble now. She would have been a formidable candidate against Martha McSally looking what’s happening at primaries across the country where the most radical candidate has been put on top. But with Joe Arpaio in there, I think that splits Kelli ward's base. I don't know how hard Joe Arpaio will campaign or whether he will even file nominating petitions, but if he stay in the race, I think it's very good news for McSally.
TED SIMONS: I think she is the immediate frontrunner. The latest media poll has her at 37 percent, Arpaio 22 percent, and ward at 19. To have a 9% point lead right out of the gate is pretty impressive. The other two have a pretty big hill to climb.
JIM NINTZEL: I think that's true. Martha, the other thing she can do, is raise money like nobody's business. She's raised millions and millions of dollars in congressional campaigns and was sitting on at least a one million and a half dollars when she moved from the congress to senate race.
TED SIMONS: So let’s jump ahead. Conventional wisdom had Kyrsten Sinema doing very well against Kelli ward and doing very well if it was Joe Arpaio. Conventional wisdom does not have Kyrsten Sinema not doing quite as well as Martha McSally. Are you buying that?
JIM NINTZEL: That’s probably a very accurate assessment of the race. We'll see how it plays out between now and then. Certainly Democrats haven't had a great opportunity or luck statewide in recent years, and supposedly in 2018 a blue wave is forming and they say Arizona is going to be competitive. We have not seen that happen yet. It might happen now. It’s going to be fascinating as Kirstan and Martha are two of the most ambitious politicians in Arizona and they are going head to head.
TED SIMONS: I was going to say that there is no little intent there as far as winning this race. As far as the state though is concerned, do people know enough about Martha McSally? A lot of people in the Phoenix area still don't know much about her.
JIM NINTZEL: They will. I guarantee you that.
TED SIMONS: A lot of money going to be pumped into this race?
JIM NINTZEL: A lot of money. The candidates will raise a lot themselves, but third parties campaign groups will raise even more. You’re going to see attack ads, ads boosting people's favorables. I don't think you will be able to turn on the T.V. without seeing Martha McSally or Kyrsten Sinema.
TED SIMONS: Talk about the Trump factor in the republican primary and in a possible general?
JIM NINTZEL: You can see Martha is already buddying up to Donald Trump for this run. She's not letting Kelli ward or Joe Arpaio to be the Trump candidate in this race. I would say both are definitely closer to Trump than she has been in the past. What kind of impact he has statewide is I think going to be the big question in November. I can’t answer that yet.
TED SIMONS: Can she do that in a general election? Many people are thinking she will run as much against Donald Trump as whoever the Republican candidate might be. How does a Martha McSally swing all this love and attention of Donald Trump back toward a general race?
JIM NINTZEL: I think she's all in.
TED SIMONS: So you’re not going to see much change if things go sour with Trump later in the year?
JIM NINTZEL: That's the question for a lot of republicans. You have seen republicans go against Donald Trump like senator flake just today. His career is essentially over in Arizona at the moment. John McCain has been damaged by his efforts against Donald Trump, but I think Martha McSally has seen that happen and rather than be a force of opposition, she has decided to support the guy. From what I have read about Sinema, she's saying that I don’t think he’s really on people’s minds. She’s kind of sidestepping Trump. She's not making Trump the issue.
TED SIMONS: We'll see about that.
JIM NINTZEL: Poll numbers will pay a big role in that.
TED SIMONS: Last question and thanks for coming up from Tucson. We appreciate it. In Tucson and southern Arizona, is Martha McSally considered a beloved political figure?
JIM NINTZEL: She's a controversial political figure. A lot of people who are very unhappy with her and a lot of people who are very happy with her. It depends on what side of the political aisle you are on.
TED SIMONS: Alright. Jim, good to have you here. We appreciate it.
JIM NINTZEL: Always a pleasure Ted.
TED SIMONS: THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," THE FLU IS HITTING ARIZONA HARD, WITH AN OVER 900-PERCENT INCREASE IN REPORTED CASES COMPARED TO LAST YEAR. AND WE'LL HEAR HOW IMPROVISATIONAL COMEDY CAN HELP IMPROVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS AT WORK. THOSE STORIES AND MORE, THURSDAY, ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
Jim Nintzel: Tucson Weekly