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Locked in a tight race, Arizona Senate candidates Blake Masters and Mark Kelly debate border, abortion

Kelly said Democrats and Biden are ‘wrong’ on border and inflation, as Masters defended abortion stance

SHARE Locked in a tight race, Arizona Senate candidates Blake Masters and Mark Kelly debate border, abortion
Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, left, and his Republican challenger Blake Masters, right, arrive on stage for a debate.

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, left, and his Republican challenger Blake Masters, right, arrive on stage prior to a televised debate in Phoenix, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters kept Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly on the defensive for much of their first and only debate Thursday night, with Masters doing his best to tie Kelly to President Joe Biden’s policy on the economy and border control, while Kelly attacked Masters for his changing stance on abortion and his past comments about the 2020 election. 

A lot is riding on the Senate race in Arizona. Both parties are hoping a win there could help them keep or gain a majority in the Senate. While Republicans had the edge in Arizona for years, with senators like John McCain and Jeff Flake winning races, in the past few years, the state has trended blue. But while Kelly is up in the polls, the race is still one of the most watched in the country.

Kelly, a former astronaut, was first elected to the Senate for two years in a special election in 2020, finishing out what was left of McCain’s term after he died. Masters, a venture capitalist, was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Polls show the race is close, but Masters has lagged behind Kelly since the primaries and has struggled to raise money. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, a political action committee, said Thursday it would spend “seven figures” to help Masters, boosting his campaign hours before he was set to debate. 

The debate, which also included Libertarian Party candidate Marc Victor, was moderated by Arizona PBS host Ted Simons, whose first question — directed at Kelly — was about inflation and what Democrats had done to address the issue. 

Kelly said he “stood up to Biden” on economic issues, and accused Masters of wanting to privatize Social Security. For his part, Masters took every opportunity to tie Kelly to Biden, and said he “broke” his promise to be an independent voice in the Senate, unlike his fellow Arizona Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, who often bucks her own party. 

Masters said he didn’t always know how Sinema would vote, but he knew Kelly would vote with Biden. Biden is spending money like a “drunken sailor,” he said, while accusing Kelly of always saying “yes” to Biden’s spending bills. 

Besides the economy, the first half of the debate also focused on border security. Kelly was defensive at times about his record on the border, as Masters claimed the border was “open” and that Kelly voted against an amendment to the Inflation Reduction Act that would have increased the number of border patrol agents, even as he voted to increase the number of Internal Revenue Service agents.

Kelly said the IRS agents were necessary to make sure the rich and “big businesses” were paying their taxes, and that he had sponsored legislation to give border patrol agents a raise. 

“When Democrats are wrong, like on the border, I call them out on it,” he said, as he called for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Kelly also defended “Dreamers” — children brought into the United States illegally by their parents, who many say should be given a path to citizenship. 

Masters responded by saying lax border security had led to an increase in drugs like fentanyl coming over the border. “The border is wide open,” he said. “If the Mexican drug cartels could vote, they would vote for Kelly. He’s not doing anything to stop it.”

When Simons turned to questions about abortion, it was Kelly’s turn to go the attack, as he accused Masters of supporting state and national abortion bans, and of calling abortion “demonic” and wanting to punish doctors for assisting in abortions. 

“He thinks he should make these choices for you,” said Kelly.  

Masters said it was actually Kelly’s position that was extreme, accusing him of sponsoring and supporting a bill that would have made abortion legal up “until the moment a baby is due to be born.” Kelly denied the bill he sponsored, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would lead to many late-term abortions. The bill failed in the Senate. 

When asked if he scrubbed his website of his previous statements about abortion, including support for a near-total ban on abortions, Masters didn’t answer the question directly, but said he was “pro-life as a matter of conscience,” and said he supported Arizona’s plan to ban abortion after 15 weeks. 

The debate then pivoted to questions surrounding election integrity. Arizona was in the spotlight after the 2020 election, when Trump said the election there was stolen from him. 

Kelly said he stood on this issue with Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has repeatedly said the Arizona election was not stolen from Trump. Kelly also accused Masters of wanting to take away mail-in ballots, and said there were consequences that could come from questioning election outcomes. 

“We do elections well in Arizona,” said Kelly, after saying that the “wheels could come off” American democracy in 2024 over questions on election fraud. 

Masters responded by saying he believed the censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story by social media companies and news organizations hurt Trump’s chances at getting elected, and helped Biden. 

“I strongly suspect that changed the results of the election,” he said. 

The last issue addressed by Kelly and Masters was dwindling water supplies in the West, in the midst of a lengthy drought. Kelly said he had gotten money from Washington to keep water in Lake Mead for Arizona farmers, while he accused Masters of wanting to “privatize” the water supply. 

Masters said Kelly was acting like the “third senator from California,” after the federal government cut Arizona’s water allotment from the Colorado River, but did not cut California’s supply. He said they needed to solve the water crisis using “elbows and technology,” including by building desalination plants in California.