TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - No matter who wins, the Arizona Senate race on Nov. 6, 2018 will make state history.
Arizona has elected 11 senators since it became a state in 1912, but it has never elected a woman.
That will change when voters select either Democrat Kyrsten Sinema or Republican Martha McSally. Both are running to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake.
Most national pundits have the race as a toss up, meaning it could go either way.
Ambitious would be an apt description for either candidate.
Sinema was high school valedictorian at age 16, a graduate of BYU at 18 and then a master’s degree and Ph.D in Justice Studies. She was a state lawmaker before running for Congress in District 9 in 2012, a majority Republican district.
McSally became the first woman to fly in combat, piloting an A-10 Warthog in the Iraqi War, and the first woman to command a squadron, the 354th at Davis- Monthan. She retired after 26 years with the rank of colonel. She graduated from the Air Force Academy and has a master’s degree from Harvard.
She won her first Congressional race in 2014 by 165 votes.
Neither was born into privilege and had to overcome obstacles early in life.
Sinema, who was born in Tucson, lived in poverty for several years. The family moved to Florida where they lived in an abandoned gas station for three years.
“You know I chose to become a social worker because I wanted to held kids and families who were struggling like our family struggled,” she said. “I wouldn’t have made it to the middle class if it hadn’t been for the tremendous help of those around me.”
McSally was 12 years old when she lost her father to a heart attack. Her mother had to go back to work to support her and her four siblings.
“When he passed away, he told me to make him proud," she said.
McSally also revealed she’s a survivor of sexual abuse in her senior year of high school.
“I myself am a victim of sexual abuse, of my track coach who preyed upon me and others, fatherless, vulnerable and innocent,” she said. “It deeply affected my life, between losing my father and that, I could have been crushed.”
She said the #MeToo movement is personal.
Sinema has evolved from a member of the Green Party nearly 20 years ago to a conservative Democrat.
“Yes, I’m a blue dog," she said.
On border security she said “I support more boots on the ground, that we are investing in drones and cameras to interdict the bad guys.”
And Sinema said supports a physical barrier along the border.
It “can be part of the solution, but it shouldn’t be the only part,” she said.
McSally, whose Congressional District 2 runs along the Mexican border, cemented her plans after four years representing the district.
“It means a wall where it’s needed, it means more mobile towers and fixed towers, it means more boots on the ground, its means more airborne access, manned and unmanned and more access roads,” she said. “We need a wall, where we need a wall.”
One of the criticisms of Sinema is her migration from liberal to centrist, but she credits her choice to pursue academia for the transformation.
“I’m a life-long learner," she said. “I may not always know the answer, I could be wrong on something but I always try to keep an open mind.”
She said it is the work she does teaching at the university level that influences how she reaches decisions.
“When you learn more, some of your opinions should change, they should shift over time,” she said.
McSally is running a more traditional campaign, seeking the votes of her party and its base.
Which is why she has called in the big guns such as President Trump, former President George Bush and former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
For Sinema, her strategy is to stick to the middle and appeal to Independents.
Both candidates said they will work to protect those with pre-existing health conditions, an issue facing 2.8 million Arizonans.
“We must protect people with pre-existing conditions,” McSally said. “This is personal for all of us, everyone has a family member, a loved one with a pre-existing condition.”
But Sinema points to early GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which requires pre-existing coverage.
“There’s an attempt, one failed, and they said they’re going to try again,” Sinema said. “That’s really dangerous for Arizona families.”