Two-term Congresswoman Martha McSally, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Kelli Ward are well-known in Republican circles here in Arizona.
With name recognition under their belts, the trio fighting for Arizona’s Republican U.S. Senate nomination has focused their efforts on sending the message that they are best-suited to carry out President Trump’s vision for America.
But it is their professional and political experiences that define their campaigns.
Tucson Republican McSally spent a lifetime in the Air Force, breaking the glass ceiling as she became the first female jet fighter pilot before retiring as a colonel after 26 years of service.
A virtual unknown in political circles when she stepped off the plane in 2012 to run in a special election to fill Gabrielle Giffords’ seat in Congressional District 2 six years later, the 52-year-old McSally is considered the front-runner in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 28 primary.
She has amassed a long list of influential supporters and built a massive, seven-figure war chest. A new poll from Arizona’s OH Predictive Insights and ABC15 Arizona has McSally in the lead with 35 percent of the Republican vote.
When McSally kicked off her campaign in January, she pledged she’d “keep working with President Trump to finally get things done for the good of our country.”
But her relationship with Trump has been questioned, as McSally shied away from discussing then-candidate Trump when she was asking voters for a second term in CD2 in 2016.
“I just have a policy; I’ve never endorsed anyone for anything. Not a dog catcher or a mayor. Or president,” McSally said in June. “I was doing my job and running my race in 2016.”
Now, McSally says she has a close working relationship with Trump, publicly collaborating with him on many issues, including border security.
“Regardless of your party, people are tired of obstruction on the lack of border security,” she said in an interview on Friday. “I am working with the president, and they know that I am right there in the room, I am invited over there all the time.”
This summer, McSally touted her support for the Trump-backed Border Security and Immigration Reform Act. She spoke of how the nearly $25 billion in funding would help secure the border, close loopholes, move toward a merit-based system for immigration and build Trump’s wall along the Mexican border.
At the same time, she quietly removed herself as a co-sponsor on a more moderate immigration bill that offered Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients — also known as “dreamers” — a path to citizenship.
McSally has also campaigned heavily on her support for the military, most famously for her steadfast work to keep the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — the same “Warthogs” she once flew in combat — flying and equipped with the latest technology.
Ward has become a well-known conservative candidate throughout the state in a near-constant campaign for a Senate seat since 2015, when she left the Legislature to challenge Sen. John McCain.
The former emergency-room doctor and state senator ran an insurgent-type campaign in 2016, increasingly critical of McCain while at the same time giving her full support to Trump on the campaign trail.
Defeated in the GOP primary two years ago, Ward was the first to announce that she would challenge Sen. Jeff Flake for his seat, months before he announced that he would not run for re-election.
On the campaign trail, Ward claims her campaign influenced Flake’s decision to retire.
Ward is steadfast in her political beliefs, rarely backing down from a stance even if it draws heavy criticism.
On the question of Trump’s wall, Ward has called to build it immediately.
She notes that while Ronald Reagan was “one of her very favorite presidents” he failed to build a significant barrier at the border. She blames Congress, saying it failed on its promise of border security after giving millions of undocumented immigrants amnesty.
“The border security didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen again if we don’t do things in the right order,” Ward said.
“We need to secure the border, because illegal immigration is affecting every aspect of our society.”
While McSally’s two terms in Congress have given her rivals a voting record to lambaste, the 49-year-old Ward has a legislative history of her own, serving in the Arizona Legislature for three years.
The best-known criticism against Ward may be the label of “Chemtrail Kelli.”
While in the Legislature, Ward organized a public forum to discuss the issue of so-called chemtrails — that jet condensation trails contain chemical or biological agents — asking members of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to answer questions from the public.
Ward has said she doesn’t believe in that conspiracy theory, and independent, third-party groups including the Washington Post have debunked the chemtrail allegations .
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio, who once called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” also claims a close relationship with Trump.
Trump pardoned the 86-year-old Arpaio after he was convicted of ignoring a court order related to racial profiling while he was sheriff.
“Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration,” the White House said at the time .
Earlier this year, Arpaio told Republicans in Oro Valley that his support for Trump will not waver, regardless of how unpopular Trump might be.
“His approval rating could go down to 1 percent, and I’ll still support him,” Arpaio said. “I was with him in the beginning, and I’ll be with him until the end.”
The tough-talking former lawman also has bold plans for the border, going further than just supporting a massive wall.
“Every time there is an election, people talk about illegal immigration, and then nothing is done by Congress,” Arpaio said.
Spending 25 years in the Drug Enforcement Administration, including as the head of the Arizona sector, Arpaio says he understands the complicated issues of securing the border.
He offers a bold suggestion: Send in the military. Not just to the border as others have suggested, but into Mexico in a joint exercise with the Mexican government focused on fighting drug traffickers.
“If you really want to do something, send in the military. We send the military all over the world to protect our country,” Arpaio told the Star last week.
“So why can’t we send in the military to our neighboring state?”
The winner of the Aug. 28 GOP primary will face one of two women currently vying for the Democratic nomination, attorney and community activist Deedra Abboud and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.