WASHINGTON — Air Force veteran Martha McSally conceded her Senate race to fellow Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema on Monday, but could still end up serving alongside her in the upper chamber next year.

McSally, a former combat aviator who became one of the highest-ranking female pilots in service history during her 26-year Air Force career, currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and has been a vocal defender of preserving the Air Force’s A-10 fleet as well as an advocate for opening combat roles to female troops.

She had been seen as a potential significant national security voice for Senate Republicans if she won the election to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. But on Monday, after nearly a week of recounts, she conceded that she had lost the contest by about 40,000 votes (less than 2 percent).

“I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona’s first female senator after a hard fought battle. I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate,” she said in a video posted online.

Almost immediately after that loss, speculation began about whether McSally could end up in Arizona’s other Senate seat. Earlier this year, following the death Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Jon Kyl to serve in his post until at least the end of 2018. Kyl has indicated he does not want to serve past that point.

McSally’s narrow loss in the recent election coupled with her military background could make her a natural replacement for McCain, a longtime stalwart in the Senate on military and veterans issues.

Neither McSally nor Ducey have made any public statement on the possible appointment. Arizona media began debating the idea Tuesday morning.

Whoever is appointed to replace Kyl would have to run for re-election again in 2020, most likely on the same ticket as President Donald Trump. McSally defended several Trump moves during her recent campaign, including the decision to deploy active-duty troops along the southern U.S. border.

McSally is one of four female veterans in Congress this session. She was first elected to the House in 2014 and did not file to run for re-election to the House in 2018.

Next year’s class of lawmakers will include at least six female veterans, after three new Democratic candidates who served won their races.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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