The first female combat pilot in U.S. military history would seem an unlikely target for a kitchen-themed attack ad, and yet that’s exactly what Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC and Rep. Ron Barber have cooked up for Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel and pioneering A-10 pilot.
“Wall St. and Martha McSally—here’s what they’ve got cooking,” a female voiceover says as well-worn recipe cards pop out of a recipe box against a backdrop of fresh groceries. The ad features a photo of McSally on a recipe card alongside scribbled accusations like, “raise retirement age” and “essentially end Medicare.” The ad concludes, “McSally and Wall St.— a recipe for disaster.”
McSally, for her part, calls the accusations false and the ad’s theme “laughable.”
“The fact that they use this theme of Martha McSally in a kitchen cooking up recipes is…overtly sexist and insulting to any woman, but it certainly doesn’t fit specifically with me,” she said in a phone interview. “For crying out loud, I served 26 years in the military. I was too busy shooting 30 mm out of my A-10 at the Taliban and al Qaeda to spend any time in a kitchen.”
McSally has made requests of Barber’s campaign and the House Majority PAC to take the ad down, calling it “totally false and misleading”:
McSally’s running in a new 2nd Congressional District formed by redistricting, which is very narrowly Republican, split almost in thirds between the GOP, Democrats, and Independents. Barber is a former staffer for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured during Jared Loughner’s rampage in Tucson and recovered, later winning a special election to serve out Giffords’ term in Congress. Barber has good will in the district, but McSally said the special election, in which Jesse Kelly was bested, turned a page. Kelly decided not to run in the new 2nd CD.
“The community went through a horrible tragedy over a year and a half ago that put us in this place but that’s what the special election was about. They cleared the field for [Barber] and Gabby Giffords endorsed him in order to be a placeholder and a caretaker… and he’s doing that and I thank him for his service, but this November election is about the future,” McSally said. “This is a new fresh election between Ron Barber having to run in his own right, and myself, who brings a very different alternative that more closely fits the kind of people who get elected from this district.”
The NRCC has about $330,000 of ads scheduled in McSally’s district right now. A DCCC poll showed a 14-point lead for Barber at the beginning of October, but McSally and Republicans believe the race is far closer. A McSally poll showed her trailing by five points in August, and a more recent one reported in Roll Call showed a dead heat.
Nowhere in the country perhaps is the irony of the Democrats’ “war on women” attack more glaring than in McSally’s race, which National Journal rates at No. 70 on a list of 71 House races likely to flip.
“All of that name-calling and rhetoric is just not helpful right now,” McSally said. “I’ve been fighting for women’s rights and women’s equality my whole life. I’ve put my life on the line. I’ve certainly broken through some glass ceilings during interesting transitions that were less than friendly environments.”
McSally’s no stranger to having the odds stacked against her. Despite having air sickness as a child and entering the military when being a fighter pilot was against the law for women, she set her sights on her unlikely career. The youngest of five kids, her father died when she was just 12 years old.
“One of the last things he said to me, in between heart attacks, before he died was to make him proud. And, so I was 12 years old, and in that time of junior high and high school, I certainly had a lot of life lessons come way too early.”
Her father’s service in the military inspired her to look into the service academies, and she was accepted to the Air Force Academy, planning to become a military doctor.
“It wasn’t until I got to the academy that I became very motivated to become a fighter pilot, quite frankly because they told me that I couldn’t, ” she said. “I’m going through the same training as everybody else, but if I were to then go onto pilot training, just because I’m a woman, I wasn’t able to be a fighter pilot. I just thought that was crap.”
So, she declared her desire to be a fighter pilot, graduated from the Academy, and went to the Kennedy School at Harvard, picking up a master’s degree in public policy while the Pentagon was pondering a policy change. She did pilot training and was in a position as an instructor when the change came down.
“I was just fortunate to be in the right place in the right time with the right qualifications,” she said.
Since then, McSally has flown some 300 combat hours over Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the Bronze Star during her time commanding a combat squadron in Operation Enduring Freedom during 2005 and 2006.
McSally also sued her bosses at the Department of Defense in the early 2000s to change Pentagon policy forcing women service members to wear the abaya— Muslim body covering— when they went off base in Saudi Arabia. The policy changed. She uses that powerful example when constituents wonder if she’ll simply toe the party line once she gets to Washington, she said.
“I’m a conservative and I’m an independent thinker.”
But sure, McSally in a kitchen is the first thing that springs to mind.