Underdog in Giffords Special Positioned to Be Force in Arizona Politics

Posted April 14, 2012 at 10:16am
Underdog in Giffords Special Positioned to Be Force in Arizona Politics
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Who is Martha McSally? That’s the question being asked in GOP political circles in Arizona and Washington, D.C., over the past several months.

The retired Air Force colonel is among the Republicans running in the special election to succeed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). She probably will not win the primary, but some important Republicans wish she would.

To say she was off the political grid prior to her candidacy is an understatement. Her announcement speech set up was amateurish. Even people on her own payroll will describe her nascent campaign as “rag tag.”

The video of her announcement intrigued political consultant Christian Morgan of Axiom Strategies so much that he and his team tracked McSally down and pitched working with her.

“The American people are thirsting for leadership these days. They don’t see it in the other opponents,” Morgan said earlier this week. “Five days out from the primary, Martha’s surging,”

There are three other candidates in the GOP nomination hunt. Each has more established ties to Tucson, Ariz., than the 46-year-old McSally, who has lived in the area off and on over the past 10 years, some of the time while on military assignment.

During her 28 years in the military, McSally was a prominent figure. She broke gender barriers as the first female combat pilot in the Air Force. But when told “no” on various policies, she fought the bureaucracy with research and litigation, even going to Congress.

McSally made the most waves when she challenged the military’s policy of forcing women to wear abayas off-base while stationed in Saudi Arabia. Over the course of that debate, she was featured in newspaper articles and appeared on “60 Minutes.” And she won.

As for her current Congressional run, she was rarely even mentioned in early news articles as a contender. Jesse Kelly, who barely lost to Giffords in 2010, is expected to emerge the winner of Tuesday’s special GOP contest. But McSally popped in the news because of her reaction to then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s opposition to women in combat.

“I really just wanted to go kick him in the jimmy,” she said on Fox News. “He’s totally out of touch.”