On Tuesday, congresswoman Martha McSally — a former Air Force fighter pilot and establishment pick — prevailed over her two hardline opponents to become Arizona’s Republican candidate for Senate. Now that she has clinched the nomination, she told supporters that her race against Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will end in a choice “between a patriot and a protester” come November.
That race could help determine which party has control of the Senate next year. But McSally’s statement was also indicative of the Republican Party’s larger messaging tactic for the midterm elections: to paint Democratic opponents as protesters at odds with American patriotism.
The fight between McSally and Sinema will be fierce, no doubt. “We’re going to spend the next 70 days making sure people see the contrast between a protester or a patriot,” McSally said in a video posted by an NBC correspondent. She called Sinema a “chameleon who I’m running against on the left, who’s a Hollywood makeover.”
Sinema, who is bisexual and got her start in politics as a Green Party activist working on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign, practiced law and worked as a social worker.
The comments show McSally attempting to revive a 2006 interview that Sinema gave to a now-defunct fashion magazine, 944, in which the creative dresser, who said she owns more than 100 pairs of shoes, described herself as “a Prada socialist.” Sinema has dismissed the remark as a joke. The “pink tutu” charge was laid out in a TV ad this month that includes a photograph of Sinema speaking into a microphone and wearing a pink outfit, according to footage posted by Politico.
“While we were in harm’s way in uniform, Kyrsten Sinema was protesting us in a pink tutu and denigrating our service,” McSally said.
As an elected official, Sinema has emphasized her support for the military. “My older brother is a retired Marine and my younger brother is on active duty in the Navy,” she wrote in the Arizona Republic in 2014. The newspaper deemed “somewhat true, somewhat false” her statement that she had “put military families and veterans’ issues at the forefront.”
Addressing supporters Tuesday, Sinema said, “We need to treat these next 10 weeks like a sprint,” according to an ABC affiliate in Phoenix. “We’re going to run as fast as we can, as hard as we can.”
McSally’s rhetoric echoes the attacks lobbed in recent days by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas against his Democratic challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, too. The strategy represents the newest front in a culture war deepened by President Trump, who has made identity a hallmark of his politics by using racially charged language and wading into issues including transgender service members and even the phrase “Merry Christmas.”