Martha McSally Appointed to Arizona Senate Seat Once Held by John McCain

WASHINGTON — Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona on Tuesday appointed Representative Martha McSally to the Senate seat previously held by John McCain, bowing to the preferences of Washington Republicans despite his own misgivings about Ms. McSally’s lackluster Senate campaign this year.

Mr. Ducey, who easily won re-election last month as Ms. McSally was defeated in her bid for Arizona’s other Senate seat, hailed her combat service as an Air Force pilot and two terms in the House.

“With her experience and long record of service, Martha is uniquely qualified to step up and fight for Arizona’s interests in the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Ducey said in a statement.

Ms. McSally will enter the Senate at the start of the year, replacing Senator Jon Kyl, the senator-turned-lobbyist who returned to the chamber as a caretaker in the months immediately following Mr. McCain’s death in August. Mr. Kyl announced last week he would resign at the end of the year.

In an unusual twist, Ms. McSally will be paired in the Senate with the woman who just beat her, Kyrsten Sinema. It was Ms. McSally’s performance in that campaign, which she lost by just over two points after struggling to appeal to moderate voters, that gave Mr. Ducey and his advisers pause about appointing her, according to Republicans familiar with their thinking.

But the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, advocated for Ms. McSally, and the governor recognized that she alone had the sort of fund-raising base and statewide name recognition that will be pivotal in 2020, when she will have to run again to serve out Mr. McCain’s unexpired term.

“I look forward to working closely with Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate, as we did in the House,” Ms. McSally said at a news conference with Mr. Ducey, glossing over a fiercely fought campaign in which, at one point, she accused the Democrat of treason.

To receive the appointment, though, Ms. McSally, a Tucson-area lawmaker, was encouraged by the governor to make amends with the McCain family. Ms. McSally, who distanced herself from Mr. McCain during the Republican primary this year, visited the late senator’s widow, Cindy, on Friday in Phoenix.

The meeting went well enough that an individual close to the family said afterward that Mrs. McCain would not oppose the appointment. But on Tuesday she offered more advice for Ms. McSally and praise for Mr. Ducey than she did enthusiasm about his selection.

“My husband’s greatest legacy was placing service to AZ & USA ahead of his own self-interest,” Mrs. McCain wrote on Twitter. “I respect @dougducey’s decision to appoint @RepMcSally to fill the remainder of his term. Arizonans will be pulling for her, hoping that she will follow his example of selfless leadership.”

The only other candidate Mr. Ducey seriously considered was Kirk Adams, his just-departed chief of staff. But the governor was uneasy about elevating his own aide, who also served in the State Legislature, and thought Ms. McSally would have an easier time navigating the 2020 primary and general election.

In some ways, Ms. McSally’s appointment was anti-climactic. When Mr. Kyl took the post in September, he committed to serving only through the end of this year — establishing the seat as something of an insurance policy for Ms. McSally in case she lost to Ms. Sinema.

Democrats wasted little time Tuesday highlighting the turn of events that led to Senate opponents becoming Senate colleagues in less than two months.

“Why appoint a loser when you could find a fresh face with a better shot in 2020?” asked Lauren Passalacqua, spokeswoman for the Senate Democratic campaign arm, adding of Ms. McSally: “Voters rejected her once, and will do so again.”

But the same internecine feuding that plagued Republicans this year, and forced Ms. McSally to move to the right to secure the nomination, could also hamper Democrats in two years. Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general and close McCain family friend — and a former Republican — is considering seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat. And if he does, he will almost certainly face a stiff primary challenge from the progressive wing of the party.

Representative Ruben Gallego, a Marine veteran and Phoenix-area lawmaker, has made little secret of his desire to run statewide. And Representative-elect Greg Stanton, the former Phoenix mayor, may also consider a bid.