Establishment choice Rep. Martha McSally fended off challenges from two conservative insurgents to become the Republican nominee to fill retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s Senate seat.
Republicans recruited McSally — a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who is retiring from the state’s 2nd Congressional District — after Flake bowed out of the race, having lost the support of Trump and much of the president’s base. The party had been deeply worried that former state senator Kelli Ward would win the primary, after a bizarre campaign in which she repeatedly disparaged a dying Sen. John McCain and selected a far-right conspiracy theorist as one of her surrogates.
In the end, Ward split the Trumpian vote with former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, and McSally sailed to victory with an enormous fundraising advantage.
But Ward’s candidacy forced McSally, once viewed as a relatively centrist candidate, to veer to the right on border security and immigration issues. That could make it harder for her to win in November, when she is expected to face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in a blue-wave year.
History is on McSally’s side, as Arizona has not elected a Democratic senator since the late 1980s. But 2018 would be a disastrous year for the GOP to end the streak, with partisan control of the Senate likely to hang in the balance.
In a sign of McSally’s confidence in the primary and possible concern over the general election, she began running ads against Sinema several days before the election.