By Recker McDowell —
The border, immigration and President Donald Trump will be front and center in the U.S. Senate race next year between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Mark Kelly.
But the race — like McSally’s narrow loss to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema last year for Arizona’s other U.S. Senate seat — will be decided in vote-rich metro Phoenix
That presents a challenge for both McSally — who was appointed to the late John McCain’s Senate seat by Gov. Doug Ducey after her loss to Sinema — and Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Both Kelly and McSally are from Tucson. Both will win or lose their 2020 race in the sprawl of Phoenix. That is where Sinema bested McSally doing well in usually Republican Maricopa County. McSally and Kelly will need to find a stronghold in the Valley beyond TV ads and the 2020 presidential race.
McSally and Sinema blanketed the Phoenix media market with negative ads against each other. Democrats ads hitting McSally and other Republicans on health care and pre-existing conditions were effective in the midterm elections.
Immigration and of course the presidential race will be important but so will the economy and health care.
McSally will need to deepen her personal footprint in metro Phoenix in 2020. She has a great life story serving as a combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force. More voters in Maricopa and Pinal counties need to know that story and get beyond what they see in TV spots and Trump rallies.
McSally’s friendly political relationship with Trump complicates her Arizona fortunes. Trump has plenty of populist support in Arizona. But there are also plenty of ‘never Trumpers’ who might usually vote Republican but don’t like his very personal spats with the late John McCain and Jeff Flake.
The Trump dynamic cut both ways for McSally against Sinema. It could cut even more with Trump on the ballot against Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders.
As for Kelly, he also has a story to tell. He served as a Space Shuttle Commander and his identical twin brother, Scott Kelly, is also an astronaut.
Mark Kelly also has a national profile thanks to his NASA experience and advocating for gun control along with Giffords after she was shot and severely wounded in a mass shooting in 2011.
But Kelly is also more of political grassroots unknown in metro Phoenix which accounts for 66 percent of Arizona’s population and was far from solid Republican in 2018.
Sinema, who is from the Valley, benefited from her local ties against McSally as well as her very disciplined message which avoided focusing too much on Donald Trump.
Kelly will look to replicate Sinema’s playbook. But the 2020 dynamic will be different with Trump at the top of every ticket, newscast and Twitter feed.
What won’t change is how voters in metro Phoenix will decide the outcomes.