Martha McSally refuses to concede Arizona Senate race even as math shows she can’t win

The senator joins fellow GOP losers Donald Trump and John James in refusing to admit defeat in races they can't win

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published November 10, 2020 4:44PM (EST)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) speaks to supporters at the AZGOP Headquarters on November 2, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) speaks to supporters at the AZGOP Headquarters on November 2, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., refuses to concede her election, even though she trails her Democratic rival by a margin which exceeds the total number of outstanding ballots by the thousands.

The Associated Press projected that Senator-elect Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., would win the election nearly a week ago. Kelly has already named his transition team, and he's been assigned temporary office space.

McSally, who also lost her 2018 Senate bid before being appointed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to fill the late Sen. John McCain's seat, refuses to concede the race. With no more than 59,993 ballots left to count, McSally trailed Kelly by 81,322 votes as of Tuesday morning, according to Arizona Mirror reporter Jeremy Duda.

Though McSally graciously conceded her 2018 race to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., she appears to have latched onto President Donald Trump's baseless allegations sowing doubt in the election result this go around.

McSally has neither addressed her constituents nor posted any formal statements to her social media accounts. She also has not privately reached out to Kelly, his campaign told the Arizona Daily Star.

Declaring victory in the race, Kelly has wasted no time waiting on his opponent. Unlike the other senators elected this month, Arizona held a special election. That means Kelly could be sworn in to replace McSally as early as Nov. 30, when election results are certified. He will serve the remainder of McCain's term, which ends after 2022.

"As I prepare for the work of representing all Arizonans in the U.S. Senate, I want Arizonans to know that I am committed to being a senator who will work to get things done and be an independent voice for them in Washington on day one," Kelly said in a statement. "This team of community leaders, Republicans and Democrats, will help ensure we are successful in this next mission, serving and getting results for Arizonans."

McSally is not the only Republican who has refused to concede her loss despite insurmountable math.

Republican Michigan candidate John James, who also lost his 2018 Senate bid, refused to concede his race to Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., nearly a week after the race was called. James, who lost by about 85,000 votes, has baselessly alleged cheating without citing any evidence.

"It's sad and it's pathetic. They lost," Peters said at a press conference. "This is where you see someone's character."

Peters called Republican legal challenges filed in the state "frivolous."

"I would just say to Mr. James and their campaign: Accept the opinion and the votes of the people of the state of Michigan," he added. "That's the right thing to do."

While the refusal by McSally and James to admit their losses mirror Trump's attempts to try to discredit the election he lost, some Republican candidates' complaints have been even more egregious.

Errol Webber, a Republican who trails Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., by a whopping 72 points, called for an "audit" of the vote. "I will NOT concede," he vowed.

Republican Kimberly Klacik claimed that her campaign would "investigate" the results of her race against Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., which she lost by more than 40 points.

Election officials in both states said there was no evidence of irregularities, but that has not stopped Trump and his allies from undermining the elections. 

Republican leaders have increasingly backed Trump's unsubstantiated claims in spite of strong pushback from Republican officials who oversaw the vote in some of the states being targeted with legal actions.

Republicans and Trump advisers are "increasingly resigned to a Biden victory," but they have resisted pushing back on the baseless fraud claims in order to avoid angering the president's base of supporters, The Washington Post reported.

"What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change," a senior Republican official told the outlet. "He went golfing this weekend. It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He's tweeting about filing some lawsuits. Those lawsuits will fail. Then he'll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he'll leave."

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., also told CNN on Tuesday that Republicans had privately called him to pass along congratulations to Biden.

Some Republicans, on the other hand, have warned that attempts to appease the president and his supporters could backfire. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Monday showed that 70% of Republican voters now believe the election was neither free nor fair.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, called Trump's unfounded allegations "dangerous." Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said they were "very disturbing." Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Denver Riggleman, R-Va., called on the president to "respect the democratic process" and stop "spreading debunked misinformation."

Trump is "wrong to say the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, adding that his unfounded claim "damages the cause of freedom here and around the world . . . and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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