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Martha McSally tapped to fill Senate seat once held by McCain

McSally, who has served in the House since 2015, lost her recent Senate race in November to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema

WASHINGTON — GOP Rep. Martha McSally will fill the Senate seat once held by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office said Tuesday.

“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. I thank her for taking on this significant responsibility and look forward to working with her and Senator-elect Sinema to get positive things done,” Ducey said in a statement.

The announcement comes just a few days after Republican Sen. Jon Kyl announced that he plans to retire from the Senate seat that he temporarily filled after McCain's death over the summer.

Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., defeated McSally, who has served in the House since 2015, in last month's midterm election to take the seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Sinema is also a member of the House.

McSally served in the Air Force for 26 years and retire as a full colonel in 2010. Her military career included deployments to the Middle East, including Afghanistan six times. She was the first woman in U.S. history to fly a fighter jet in combat.

McCain's wife, Cindy, weighed in on the appointment of McSally on Tuesday.

According to Arizona law, the state's governor has the authority to appoint a replacement to an open Senate seat, and the replacement must belong to the same political party as the person being replaced. To keep her seat, though, McSally has to win an election in 2020.

It's only the third time since 1913 — when a constitutional amendment mandated the direct election of senators — that the loser of a Senate contest has gone on to win an appointment to serve with the winner, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.

In both of the previous instances, involving Sen. Edwin Mechem, R-N.M., and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, the appointed senator lost his next bid for the seat.

In neither previous case was the loser immediately appointed to a vacancy.

In 1954, Mechem lost a race to incumbent Democrat Clinton Presba Anderson. Eight years later, just after he had been defeated for re-election as governor, he had himself appointed to the seat of the late Democrat Dennis Chavez. Mechem ended up serving with Anderson for two years, but, like many governors who move into vacated Senate seats, he lost his bid for election in his own right in 1964.

In 1974, Metzenbaum was appointed to serve alongside Sen. Robert Taft Jr., the Republican who had defeated him in an open-seat Senate race in 1970. Later in 1974, Metzenbaum lost the Democratic nomination to astronaut John Glenn. But he came back in 1976 to defeat Taft.

In addition to those gems, the Senate Historical Office compiled a list of 11 times the losing candidate in a race won a subsequent election and served with the person who defeated him. The most recent example is Republican John Ensign, who won a Senate seat in 2000 after losing to Democrat Harry Reid in 1998. The earliest was Massachusetts Democrat David Walsh, who lost a 1926 contest to Republican Frederick Gillett but rebounded to win a special election later that year and served with Gillett for five years.