Arizona's McSally makes an unfortunate case for a GOP-led Senate

As McSally sees it, a Democratic majority would lead more Americans to have representation in Congress - an outcome she sees as a disaster for the GOP.
Image: Martha McSally
Arizona Republican senatorial candidate Martha McSally, speaks with voters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Chase's diner in Chandler, Arizona.Matt York / AP
By Steve Benen

Several incumbent U.S. senators are facing difficult re-election bids in 2020, but few are as vulnerable as appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). Facing former astronaut Mark Kelly (D) in the fall, all of the recent polling shows the incumbent trailing, just two years after McSally lost a different Senate race in her home state.

It was against this backdrop that the Republican spoke to NBC News' Vaughn Hillyard yesterday, and she explained her perspective on the broader significance of her candidacy.

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally (R) said Tuesday that if Democrats managed to gain control of the White House, the Senate and the House in November, the party would legislate statehood to both Puerto Rico and D.C. -- a move that she said would be disastrous for Republicans. "They're going to make D.C. and Puerto Rico a state and get four new Democrat [sic] Senators," McSally told NBC News in an interview Tuesday. "We'd never get the Senate back again."

The GOP incumbent added, "This is just the implications of this seat, the implications of this vote."

At the heart of McSally's message is an attempt to nationalize her race, trying to convince voters in her traditionally "red" state to see the contest from a vastly larger perspective. To hear the senator tell it, this isn't just a contest about two candidates, or even a campaign about Arizona's specific needs. Rather, voters should elect her in order to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate.

And why should that be a principal public priority? Because as McSally sees it, a Democratic majority would lead more Americans to have representation in Congress -- an outcome the Arizonan apparently believes would be a disaster for her political party.

The list of problems with such a posture is not short. For example, senators generally don't base their appeal on denying Americans a voice on Capitol Hill.

What's more, her assumptions are at odds with available evidence: Puerto Ricans have elected a Republican governor, and the island's current delegate to Congress is Jenniffer Gonzalez -- a Republican.

For that matter, even if we assumed Democrats would grant statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico, and even if we assumed they collectively sent four Democratic senators to the Hill, that still wouldn't necessarily mean that Republicans would "never" be able to achieve a majority. The GOP has had five-seat majorities several times in the recent past, and the party had a four-seat majority as recently as four years ago.

But let's also not miss the forest for the trees. As The Atlantic's Edward-Isaac Dovere noted yesterday, McSally is reasoning "that some Americans don't deserve a vote in the Senate because she does not think her party can appeal to them."

McSally has had plenty of time to work on her 2020 message. Her pitch apparently needs some work.