By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Three-term Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick said on Tuesday she will seek to oust powerful Republican John McCain from his U.S. Senate seat in 2016.
Kirkpatrick, who narrowly won re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, launched her Senate campaign by stressing her deep Arizona roots and pledging to offer voters an alternative to the state’s senior senator, who is 78.
"I respect John McCain's service to our nation, I just believe our state is changing," Kirkpatrick said in a video on her website revealing her decision. “Arizonans should have a real choice who they send to the United States Senate."
Kirkpatrick, 65, said continuing to create a strong economy will be at the heart of her campaign and indicated she expects a rough-and-tumble race in the Republican-dominated southwestern state.
“I know that Washington insiders are already trying to dig up dirt," Kirkpatrick said about her challenge. "But having grown up here, having a little mud on my boots is part of life."
Under the campaign slogan “Putting Arizona First,” she ticked off a list of issues that she has pursued, including improving education, protecting farms and ranches, caring for veterans, fighting for Social Security and Medicare, and paying down the national debt.
Kirkpatrick’s bid comes about two months after McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made formal his plans to seek a sixth Senate term.
"Senator McCain welcomes Congresswoman Kirkpatrick to the race, and looks forward to running a vigorous campaign no matter who the Democratic nominee is," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said in an emailed statement.
McCain was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 and was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
Kirkpatrick is the lone major Democrat to have announced for the seat, although U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has been mentioned as a candidate by local political analysts.
A former municipal attorney and state lawmaker, Kirkpatrick was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008. She lost her seat in 2010, but reclaimed it in 2012.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)