Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has told her House GOP colleagues that she plans to run in 2018 for the Arizona Senate seat left open by Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report MORE's (R-Ariz.) retirement.
McSally, whose House seat is a top target for Democrats, hasn’t said when she’ll officially announce her Senate bid, sources told The Arizona Republic, which first reported her discussions with other lawmakers. Her entrance into the race would give state Sen. Kelli Ward competition in the Republican primary.
McSally, a former Air Force pilot, would be one of the first major Republicans to jump into the race in the wake of Flake announcing he wouldn't run for reelection last month. Flake, who has been an outspoken critic of President Trump and said he no longer wanted to be “complicit,” was lagging in both primary and general election polls.
McSally’s decision to run for the Senate opens up her House seat, which is considered a toss-up. It’s a high priority for House Democrats who have targeted McSally since she was elected. Now that it’s an open seat, it’ll likely give Democrats a higher chance of winning, since they won't face McSally's incumbency and fundraising prowess.
Republicans feel better about their chances of holding the Senate seat with Flake’s departure. Establishment Republicans are looking for an alternative to Ward, who they believe wouldn’t fare well in a general election against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who will likely be the Democratic nominee.
But Ward has already won the backing of former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has declared war on the GOP establishment and anyone who doesn’t back the president. She has also shored up some support from others in conservative and pro-Trump circles.
Not all conservatives are in Ward’s corner, however, and some have already indicated that they won’t back McSally, either. The conservative Club for Growth PAC has said it will support Salmon if he decides to run.
--Scott Wong contributed reporting.