Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally called on the national GOP to "grow a pair of ovaries" as she launched her Senate bid Friday, joining the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake by embracing President Donald Trump and his outsider playbook in one of the nation's premier contests.
The 51-year-old retired Air Force combat pilot cast herself as a tough-talking outsider as she vowed to work closely with the Republican president to combat illegal immigration.
"There should be no sanctuary for anyone breaking our laws and harming our people," said McSally, wearing a military flight suit as she faced dozens of supporters in a Tucson airport hangar. "You better believe I will keep working with President Trump."
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Like few others, the Arizona election is expected to showcase the feud between the Republican Party's establishment and its fiery anti-immigration wing in particular — all in a border state that features one of the nation's largest Hispanic populations.
The race will test the appeal of the Trump political playbook — which emphasizes the dangers of illegal immigration and demands border security above all else — in a state where nearly 1 in 3 residents is Hispanic and roughly 1 million are eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center.
McSally, a two-term congresswoman already backed by many GOP establishment leaders in Arizona and Washington, first announced her candidacy in a fiery video early Friday that touched on border security and Sharia law and featured Trump himself.
"Like our president, I'm tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses," McSally said. "I'm a fighter pilot and I talk like one."
"That's why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done," she added.
After her Tucson appearance, McSally, the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission, boarded a World War II-era fighter plane that she was flying to Phoenix and Prescott for subsequent announcement events.
McSally enters a dynamic Republican primary field that features a nationally celebrated immigration hardliner, 85-year-old former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by Trump last year after defying a judge's order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. The primary also includes former state Sen. Kelli Ward, an outspoken Trump advocate who was an early favorite of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Despite the aggressive rhetoric in her announcement video, some of McSally's conservative critics dismiss her as an establishment favorite whose record doesn't match her tough talk.
She refused to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, and she referred to his sexually predatory comments caught on the "Access Hollywood" tape as "disgusting."
Yet she has tacked right in recent months and aligned herself with Trump as the 2018 campaign season neared.
"Thank you, Mr. President," she wrote Friday morning, retweeting a post from the president that attacked Democrats who are contemplating a government shutdown to protect young immigrants known as "Dreamers." ''As we discussed on Tuesday, we won't allow our troops to be held hostage by DACA negotiations. Our military is relying on us."
McSally also co-sponsored an immigration plan released by House conservatives this week that would reduce legal immigration levels by 25 percent, block federal grants to sanctuary cities and restrict the number of relatives that immigrants already in the U.S. can bring here. The bill, which is unlikely to survive the GOP-controlled Senate, also provides temporary legal status for young immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Democrats see Arizona as a rare opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in 2018 as their party struggles to defend vulnerable incumbents in several other Republican-leaning states. Trump won Arizona in 2016 by less than 4 points.
Democrats have another advantage: Their party's leading candidate, three-term incumbent Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, faces a relatively weak Democratic field, while McSally and her Republican opponents are expected to wage a bruising Republican contest until the state's late August primary elections.
But McSally avoids her Republican opponents altogether in her announcement video, focusing instead on her military service while adding a jab at Sharia law — a reference to her fight against a military policy that required female soldiers in some Muslim-majority countries to wear robes over their service uniforms.
"I absolutely refused to bow down to Sharia law," she said. "After eight years of fighting, I won my battle for the religious freedom of American servicewomen."
She added, "After taking on terrorists in combat, the liberals in the Senate won't scare me one bit."
While some Trump loyalists and conservative groups don't necessarily agree, McSally is viewed as the stronger Republican candidate in a general election in which successful candidates must extend their appeal beyond their party's most passionate voters.
Democrats, meanwhile, are practically giddy about what they view as a race to the right in the Republican field that could make it difficult for the primary winner to prevail in November.
"Whoever escapes the GOP primary in August, they will be held accountable for touting their radical stripes at every opportunity and willingness to take stances on issues that are simply out of touch with Arizonan voters," state Democratic Party spokesman Drew Anderson said.