For Rep. Martha McSally, there may be another way to get to the Senate: an appointment.
A day after the Arizona Republican conceded her Senate campaign to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the state’s other senator, Jon Kyl, told CNN on Tuesday he has decided whether to leave office before his term ends at the end of next year. He wouldn’t reveal his decision, but said he will talk to Gov. Doug Ducey about it.
He also praised McSally, who once worked on his staff as a national security adviser, when asked about her as a potential replacement if he resigns.
“Martha McSally would be a very good member of the United States Senate, however she got there,” Kyl said. “And I regret that she didn’t make it in her election.”
“I can’t think of anybody more qualified than Martha McSally,” he added.
In the interview, Kyl made clear that an appointment would be Ducey’s decision, saying he didn’t “want to try to try to influence that.” He said his comments “have nothing to do with any potential candidate to replace me.”
Later Tuesday, in a separate interview, Kyl continued to praise McSally, but said his praise was meant outside the context of an appointment “because it is strictly the governor’s job and he’s got a lot of factors to consider and I’m not getting in the way of that.”
In September, Ducey tapped Kyl to temporarily replace former Sen. John McCain, who died in late August. At the time, Kyl said he would remain in office at least through this year – but that he would not run for re-election in 2020, when a special election will be held to fill the remaining two years of McCain’s term. It left open the possibility that Ducey would be choosing a second replacement after the midterm elections.
Kyl said Tuesday that he and his family have “pretty much come to the conclusion of what we want to do,” but would not reveal that decision.
When asked if he would continue to serve in the Senate in 2019, Kyl said, “I’m going to be discussing my plans with the governor, and everybody else will be the second to know.”
Aides and operatives close to Ducey deflected questions about a potential replacement for Kyl early this week.
“The governor is hopeful that Kyl will continue to serve in the appointed Senate seat through 2020,” said Ducey senior adviser Daniel Ruiz. “At this point we would not speculate on a vacancy that does not exist.”
Kyl said he talks to Ducey “all the time” and not to expect an announcement “anytime soon” about his future.
But in the wake of Sinema’s victory in the race for Arizona’s other Senate seat, some Republicans in the state buzzed about the possibility of McSally replacing Kyl.
“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing to think that he would do. The governor’s kept his cards very close to his chest,” said Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Arizona Republican strategist.
There are, several Arizona Republicans pointed out, significant downsides to appointing McSally, too: She’s the only Republican to lose a Senate race in Arizona in 30 years. And she cast aside what had been a more moderate record on issues like immigration to align herself closely with Trump – a departure from the tactics of Ducey, who ran as an independent-minded, business-focused governor in a runaway re-election victory.
“Hopefully she’ll have learned something from this election, in terms of making herself more friendly to the Arizona electorate,” Coughlin said of McSally.
McSally and Ducey aren’t particularly close, Arizona Republicans said – and McSally is just one of several possible selections. Others on the list include Karrin Taylor Robson, an Arizona Board of Regents member and real estate developer, who is well-liked by the GOP donor community; Kirk Adams, a former Arizona House speaker who is Ducey’s chief of staff but widely expected to leave his office soon; and Eileen Klein, a chief of staff for former Gov. Jan Brewer who Ducey appointed state treasurer in April.
Ducey’s appointment wouldn’t preclude other Arizona Republicans from running in the 2020 primary in a race that’s likely to be among the nation’s most competitive.
Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods, a former chief of staff for McCain, has said he is considering running for Senate as a Democrat. Former astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, has also openly mulled a run. Rep. Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton, the former Phoenix mayor who was elected to the House last week, are also on the list of potential candidates Democratic strategists have mentioned.