“But c’mon! Me of all people! I spent 26 years in the military. I was too busy shooting 30mm out of my A-10 at the Taliban and al-Qaeda to even learn to cook!” And then the men all frown and shake their heads vigorously, too.
Long ago, McSally embraced daunting obstacles and accepted there would be distasteful tasks along the way. She gave the nuns trouble in high school and her mother trouble at home, then carried her defiance into the Air Force Academy, where she showed up with her hair an inch shorter than it was required to be.
(And there’s still trouble with that hair. “You wouldn’t believe how many supporters have something to say about how I look. I wear it down, they tell me to put it up,” she said with a laugh. “I pull it back, and they tell me to wear it down.”)
She didn’t decide to become a pilot until she realized that, at 5-foot-3, she was too short.
She badgered for two years to get a waiver and built up her leg muscles. She got a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School before entering flight school, the same year she won the military division of the Hawaiian Ironman World Triathlon.
She sued Rumsfeld after unsuccessfully trying through channels to change the abaya rule, which she insisted violated her religious freedom as an evangelical Christian and discriminated against her gender. She found support from an unlikely coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal feminists, which she now tells voters proves her ability to forge consensus around principle.
Her own political positions are not so easily categorized. She says her priorities are deficit reduction, economic growth, immigration and tax code reform, and protecting the border, 85 miles of which form the southern edge of her district. She’s antiabortion and supports Title X, a federal program that funds family planning.
Democrats have charged she will fall in lockstep with Republican leadership and privatize Social Security. The Arizona Republic endorsed Barber, praising McSally’s intelligence and energy but faulting her grasp of specifics of the issues.
The district is a true swing district, with its 376,000 registered voters divided nearly evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents, and while most race-watchers still favor Barber to win, McSally has made it a tighter race than expected.
She has run mostly on her own biography and an assertion that, as a former commander, she will quickly gather all the pertinent intelligence rather than shooting off her mouth.
On the campaign trail
To be out in a congressional district not seen as competitive, in a state the presidential candidates ignore, is to observe a politicking that feels almost old-fashioned, unreconstructed, hopeful.