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Freshman's Campaign Issue Gets D.C. Attention

McSally, a former A-10 fighter pilot who championed the issue, is considered a vulnerable Republican in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Arizona Rep. Martha McSally's top local campaign issue will get legislative play on Capitol Hill, just a few months into the vulnerable Republican's first term in Congress.  

McSally wants to preserve funding in the defense budget for the Air Force's A-10 Warthog fleet, the very planes she commanded as the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a primary training facility for A-10s, sits squarely in the borders of Arizona's 2nd District and is a crucial part of her community's economy.  

The Air Force and the Pentagon want to retire this particular fleet. But as CQ Roll Call reported Wednesday , the House Armed Services Committee likely will include funding for the planes and the personnel that keep them flying in the 2016 defense authorization mark.  

That would be a victory for McSally, who has fought for these funds.  

Both McSally and former Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, whom she ousted last fall, hailed the A-10 during the campaign in the Tucson-area district. Barber touted his efforts to preserve the funding, while McSally spoke often about her personal history with the A-10s.  

This issue surfaced in the last Congress, when Armed Services left out A-10 funding and Barber proposed an amendment to prohibit retiring the planes and use war funding to pay for them.  

A number of members, including current Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, opposed the Barber amendment because of how it would be funded. Some members warned it could have cascade effect of using war funding for favorite projects. Still, the amendment passed with the help of Democrats, who could have been trying to protect their vulnerable colleague.  

A committee aide told CQ Roll Call the current mark from the chairman does not include language that would prohibit the retirement of the planes, but McSally could propose such an amendment. She has explicitly spoken out against the plane's retirement, writing in a New York Times op-ed that American troops would suffer if A-10s were retired before a suitable replacement for its capabilities had been developed.  

Republicans who opposed Barber's amendment last time could be more inclined to support McSally.  

McSally will be one of the most vulnerable incumbents in 2016. She won by just 167 votes  — a nail-biter repeat of their 2012 race when Barber was narrowly the victor. In a presidential year, McSally's road could be more difficult.  

Barber said earlier this month he would not challenge McSally for his old seat. But Arizona Democrats expect a number of candidates to step up. State Rep. Bruce Wheeler has already announced his candidacy.  

Democrats mention Nan Walden, a pecan farm executive who has considered running for office several times, as someone who could be a top contender. But Democrats also would like to see Walden challenge Republican Sen. John McCain.  

Randall Friese, the trauma surgeon who operated on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when she was shot by a gunman in 2011, is another possible contender. But Friese was just elected to the state House in November, so running for Congress would be a quick turnaround.  

Arizona Democrats also mentioned state Sen. Steve Farley and state Reps. Matt Heinz and Victoria Steele as possible contenders.  

McSally is girding for a fight. She raised $644,000 in the first quarter, a blockbuster haul.  

But the political landscape could change between now and Election Day if the Supreme Court chooses to throw out Arizona's district map . In June, the Supreme Court will rule on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of independent redistricting commissions drawing a district's map. If the map is tossed, the Republican state Legislature would be given the right to redraw the districts. One of their first steps would almost certainly be to shore up McSally's district, which voted 50-48 for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama in 2012.  

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