The closest example found was from three decades ago in Washington State, where the Republican Slade Gorton lost to the Democrat Brock Adams in 1986, only to win the state’s other Senate seat two years later, says Daniel Holt, an assistant Senate historian. Gorton and Adams served together until 1993. And in 1974, Ohio Democratic Senator Howard Metzenbaum and the Republican Robert Taft Jr. briefly served together four years after they ran against each other.
McSally and Sinema have each served in the state’s congressional delegation for the past four years. But they fought bitterly at times this fall as both sought to become the first woman elected to the Senate from Arizona. During their lone televised debate in October, McSally accused Sinema of “treason” for comments she made during a radio interview in 2003, when she answered a hypothetical question about whether the host should join the Taliban. Sinema “scarcely looked” at McSally during that debate or a second, untelevised matchup the two held days later at the Arizona Republic, the newspaper reported. In November, Sinema defeated McSally by 2.4 percentage points and will become Arizona’s first Democratic senator in more than 20 years.
Adding to the awkwardness on Tuesday was the possibility that McSally would actually be sworn in before Sinema, thereby leapfrogging her in seniority and making history as the state’s first woman senator. Under the Constitution, Sinema will be sworn in on January 3 along with other newly elected members at the start of the 116th Congress. Kyl’s resignation on December 31 leaves open the option for McSally to take office first. Sinema, whose extra two years in the House would give her a tiebreaker in seniority, probably doesn’t need to worry, however. “Since we are unlikely to be in session between the 31st and the day the new Congress convenes on the 3rd, that question is moot,” says Don Stewart, the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Ducey told reporters on Tuesday that Sinema would be sworn in first and be Arizona’s senior senator.
McSally and Sinema wouldn’t be the first tandem of same-state senators to have a chilly relationship. Though there’s a perception that senators set aside partisan—and personal—beefs for the good of the state they collectively represent, “that’s a great myth,” said Jim Manley, a former longtime aide to former Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy and Harry Reid. “That’s not always the case by any stretch of the imagination,” he told me, citing examples where even long-serving members of the same party, such as Kennedy and John Kerry in Massachusetts and Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, didn’t particularly get along.
While Sinema won a full six-year term, McSally will have to face the voters again in 2020. Her appointment will give her the advantage of incumbency, but Democrats immediately attacked Ducey’s decision to elevate a defeated candidate as following a pattern of Republican legislators and governors flouting the will of voters. “Why appoint a loser when you could find a fresh face with a better shot in 2020?” asks Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “That’s the question that will haunt Governor Ducey and the Washington Republicans who installed Martha McSally to a seat she couldn’t earn.”