McSally to pen memoir – just in time for her 2020 Senate bid

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., in a photo from April. McSally, who is running for re-election next year in what is expected to be one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, announced that she will have a memoir hitting bookshelves in May, just months before the election. (Photo by Oskar Agredano/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Running for office has always required determination, funding, a message – and now it apparently requires a book deal.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., announced a book deal Monday that will put her memoir, “Dare to Fly,” on bookshelves in May, just six months before the election for her Senate seat.

She’s not the first to pen a book in an election run-up and not even the first in Arizona, where former Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake were also election-year authors.

Experts say that while it is not unusual for candidates to put out a book during a campaign, it is unusual to see a sitting senator do so. One expert at George Washington University sees the book as an attempt by McSally to “recast her character” heading into a marquee Senate race against likely Democratic challenger Mark Kelly.

“The difficulty for her is that she is already well-known in the state,” said Lara Brown, director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. “It’s hard to change a perception once it’s already been formed.”

But Brown and others note that the Arizona Senate race next year will likely play out on a national stage, as it is being looked at by Democrats as one that could help tip the balance of power in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans.

Kelly had raised just under $14 million for his campaign and still had $9.5 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, the date of the most-recent campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission. McSally reported raising $8.6 million and having $5.7 million in the bank in her Sept. 30 FEC report.

An August poll by OH Predictive Insights of 600 likely Arizona voters gave Kelly 46% of the vote to McSally’s 41%, with 13% undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Brown said the purpose of an election-year book is to introduce voters to a candidate’s background and worldview. For McSally, that comes as she tries to frame herself against Kelly, who has was what Brown called a “compelling” story.

Kelly, a Navy pilot who became an astronaut, is the husband of former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a Tucson mass shooting to become a gun-control advocate – with Kelly by her side.

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But McSally has a compelling story of her own, and writing a book will allow her to bring the public into her life, Brown said.

The hardcover book will be published by HarperCollins imprint William Morrow. In a press release, the publisher said McSally will share life lessons in the book, from the untimely death of her father to her groundbreaking role as the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat – and her story of surviving sexual assault while in the Air Force.

“I believe we are all born with purpose,” McSally said in the press release. “Like many others, I experienced tragedies and barriers in my own life that could have derailed me. But I was able to find strength and courage by taking risks, challenging stereotypes, and daring to fly.”

McSally graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy before starting a 26-year military career that included six deployments to the Middle East.

It was there, as an A-10 pilot, that she became the first U.S. woman to fly a fighter jet in combat. It was also there that she successfully sued the Air Force over its policy of requiring women service members to wear abaya, the traditional head-to-toe covering of Saudi women in public.

She was a two-term House member from Tucson when she ran unsuccessfully for Senate last year, ultimately losing to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. But Gov. Doug Ducey then appointed McSally to fill the seat left open by McCain’s death in 2018.

At least one expert said he does not think the book will have more than a “marginal” impact on Arizona voters, but getting personal with readers will be the key to engaging them.

“Part of her challenge will be to get people to know who she really is in a short period of time,” said Sean Trende, senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics.

Trende said that while McSally has an interesting story to tell, books written in the midst of a Senate race are “mostly meant to influence political insiders.”

But with Arizona seen as a battleground state for the Senate next year, Brown said McSally’s book can only help her cause.

“The fact that she is putting out a book suggests that she’s looking at this as a national campaign,” said Brown. “It can help her frame her campaign around her own narrative and engage voters in Arizona who are not just looking at this through a partisan prism.”

Next Gen Reporter, Washington, D.C.