Combat fighter pilot joins competitive Arizona Senate race

McSally enters a competitive GOP primary in a key 2018 battleground state.

— -- Arizona Rep. Martha McSally officially announced her campaign for U.S. Senate today, entering a competitive Republican primary that includes controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former State Sen. Kelli Ward.

McSally, a retired Air Force colonel who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, officially launched her campaign in Tucson by flying in on a World War II-era fighter plane.

"We are in a crucial time for our country. The security of the United States, and so much else, will be on the line in these coming years. It's a time of big and defining choices," McSally told the crowd after she'd safely landed. "I recently made one myself, and I wanted my friends in Tucson to be the first to know. As of today, I am a candidate for the office of United States senator from Arizona."

Earlier today, McSally released a video announcing her campaign that emphasized both her military background and her relationship with President Donald Trump.

Trump can be seen in McSally's announcement video praising her as "the real deal" and "tough."

McSally also compared her own political style to the president, saying in her announcement video, "Like our president, I’m tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses. I’m a fighter pilot, and I talk like one. That's why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done.”

The race to succeed sitting Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who announced last year that he is not seeking re-election, is seen as key to Republican hopes of holding on to their slim 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate.

Both Arpaio -- an immigration hard-liner who was last August was pardoned by Trump after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court -- and Ward have attempted to portray themselves as the true Trump loyalists in the race.

Ward's campaign released a new ad on social media following McSally's announcement attempting to paint her as the candidate of the Washington establishment.

“Martha McSally is Jeff Flake 2.0 and part of the Washington establishment that has failed Arizona for years,” said Ward campaign chair Ed Rollins. “She opposed Donald Trump as a candidate and has undermined him as president, which is why leading conservatives are rejecting McSally and are lining up behind a true reformer in Dr. Kelli Ward.”

Whoever wins the race is expected to face Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has the backing of many national Democrats and has over $5.1 million in her campaign war chest, according to a release from her campaign sent out Thursday.