We’re not talking about the state holding its breath. We’re talking about the U.S. Senate election in 2020 when appointed incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally is expected to face off against challenger Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of Gabby Giffords.

If you think it’s too early to touch on this contest, you’re in the minority. Pundits around the country are pointing to this race for its national implications and, despite more than 18 months until Election Day, both candidates are already on the campaign trail.

Kelly was in Sierra Vista last week and plans to return. McSally is a familiar face in Cochise County, and despite her narrow statewide loss to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2018, the former congresswoman captured more than 59 percent of the vote here.

Early polling results by OH Predictive Insights – a firm that accurately forecast the outcome of the last U.S. Senate race in Arizona – show that if the election were held today, McSally would receive 45 percent of the statewide vote. Kelly, who raised more campaign cash than McSally during the first three months of this year, would take 38 percent of the ballots.

Considering that Kelly is a political newcomer to many in Arizona who are less familiar with his role as an astronaut and husband of a critically wounded congresswoman in 2011, his candidacy is already in a strong position.

McSally, meanwhile, must be concerned that extreme conservatives within the state GOP may challenge for the Republican nomination next year. If this occurs, whomever the party chooses to seek the Senate seat will be at a disadvantage, unable to campaign against Kelly until the primary is over next August.

McSally is intimately familiar with the challenge presented by extremely conservative Republicans. She survived two primary opponents – former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and current GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward – in the run-up to the 2018 general election. In that primary, McSally had to “prove” her conservative credentials, which many pundits believe cost her votes in the contest against Sinema, a moderate Democrat.

We agree this contest is a bellwether for the presidential race and for the state Republican Party. The outcome will either solidify the GOP’s long-held voter majority in Arizona or present a new image for the state’s future.

Reprinted from Sierra Vista Herald/Review

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