You know the midterms are in full swing when The New York Times is actually putting out articles about Arizona. Here in the Grand Canyon State, the midterms have just gotten more and more divisive with each passing day, starting with the three-way competition for the Republican nomination between Pima County’s own Congresswoman Martha McSally, former State Senator Kelli Ward and controversial former Sheriff of Maricopa County Joe Arpaio. Martha McSally was able to jump from Arizona District 2 to the official Republican nominee for Senate, while her Democratic challenger Kyrsten Sinema was able to easily beat out any challengers within her party.
The successful candidacies of both Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema for their respective parties means that Arizona will send its first female senator to Washington come next January (the Green Party candidate, Angela Green, is also female). But all is not well in the land of copper and climate, as anybody with either a television or internet access would be able to tell you. Representatives McSally and Sinema have been locked in a brutal campaign. The drama has included wildly fluctuating accusations, including treason, brought into the public sphere.
During their debate, Martha McSally brought up Sinema’s protest of the Iraq war when it started in 2002, while Sinema was a law student. McSally called her seeming indifference to a person hypothetically joining the Taliban a sign of treason. It’s no secret that Krysten Sinema’s past as an anti-war protester clashes intensely with Martha McSally’s years of service in the U.S. Air Force. McSally holds the distinctions of the first woman to pilot a fighter jet in combat, as well as being the first woman to command a combat aviation unit in 2004, around the same time that Sinema was protesting the Iraq War. While her service proves her loyalty and dedication to this country, it goes without saying that the accusation of treason is more than a couple steps too far.
It is true that in the early 2000s, Krysten Sinema was a devout and dedicated opponent of the Iraq War and was even quoted as being morally opposed to all warfare under any circumstances, according to The Hill. However, treason has never been a part of her politics. While McSally may disagree with her opponent’s stance on the use of force abroad or of her specific opinions on the Iraq War, accusing another citizen of treason requires a great deal of evidence that just doesn’t exist.
Even accusations made about Sinema representing a far-left minority in Arizona just does not ring true; since her election to the House of Representatives in 2013, she has been a reliable member of the moderate-to-conservative Blue Dog Coalition, with AZCentral reporting that she voted in line with Republicans on 10 out of 11 key votes earlier this year. GovTrack puts her on the right wing of the Democratic Party, right in the ideological middle, exactly how she advertises her politics to the notoriously liberal-adverse Arizonan voters. Even on foreign policy, Sinema has moved to the ideological center, showing her political journey throughout the years and bucking the idea that her early law school protests show who she is today.
This outburst by Representative McSally is not unique, and it says a lot about what kind of a candidate she is, as the senate-hopeful has made similar remarks before. A perfect example of the rhetoric that she uses frequently can be found earlier this year before the campaign season officially began. Then, many divisive topics were commanding the news cycle, including California’s refugee sanctuary cities. In March, McSally was quoted saying, “look, [California Governor] Jerry Brown might want to start building a wall between California and Arizona, because his policies are actually endangering the rest of the country.”
Without a doubt, this was clearly meant mostly as a joke, but the tone of it matches her campaign as a whole; she isn’t one to mince words or worry how things will be taken. McSally has since defended her claims of Sinema supporting “un-American” views despite little evidence of such views being held within the past decade and a half. But overall, the two comments are very similar in nature, and both reveal what kind of a candidate Representative McSally is.
Although I’m of the opinion that this controversy is more a sign of McSally’s reliance on hyperbole regardless of consequences rather than a factual accusation against her opponent, I think we should all look to the late Senator John McCain’s defense of Barack Obama during the 2008 Presidential Election as the guide for how to treat an opponent. During a campaign rally before the election, Senator McCain made headlines for defending his challenger, then-Senator Barack Obama, against claims that he was an untrustworthy “Arab”, saying publicly that his opponent was “a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues,” according to Time. His message of disagreement without malice is one that we should take to heart, even as these midterms try their hardest to divide us up into easily recognizable camps that vote reliably red or reliably blue.
Alec Scott is a junior studying political science and German studies who volunteered in the 2015 Ron Barber Congressional Campaign and who has actually met Martha McSally before.