PHOENIX (CN) – Republican candidate Martha McSally dredged up old comments about the Taliban while her Democratic rival Kyrsten Sinema called out McSally’s views on health care and her support for President Donald Trump on Monday night in a pivotal debate for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Senator Jeff Flake.
The two candidates, both currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, faced each other in a debate with such topics as immigration, health care, Social Security and support for President Donald Trump.
For Democrats to win a Senate majority in November, Sinema, who represents part of the urban core of Phoenix, will have to beat McSally, who represents part of Tucson and a swath of rural desert sprawling along the Mexican border, according to two Arizona political science professors.
“There’s no way the Democrats will take the Senate without winning this race,” said Kim Fridkin, an Arizona State University professor who echoed the view of University of Arizona professor Tom Volgy, who said the same before Arizona’s August primary and again Monday night.
McSally called Obamacare a failed policy and said she believes no one should be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, though Sinema pointed to two votes on bills that would have done just that. Both representatives are members of the Problem Solvers Caucus that drafted a bipartisan bill to preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions, though the bill failed.
Both candidates said they oppose privatizing Social Security, although Sinema urged voters to check McSally’s record on the topic, claiming McSally has said numerous times that she backs privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age.
Sinema criticized McSally for voting 98 percent of the time with the president. McSally countered that she is proud to support Trump’s goals and that he is a “disruptor.”
“Let me just say that 97 percent voting with lowering taxes and rolling back regulations and providing more opportunities for our military to be able to keep us safe, I am proud to be able to do that,” McSally said.
Sinema, who has matched the president around 60 percent of the time, countered that she would be less partisan than McSally and has a record of bucking even her own party at times.
“I believe Arizona deserves a senator who just calls the balls and the strikes, and doesn’t always just agree with her party’s leaders,” Sinema said, adding that Trump administration tariffs supported by McSally added 25 percent to the cost of Arizona cotton and metal products – even increased the cost of beer. “I believe it is our duty to stand up against the president when he’s doing something wrong.”
McSally attempted to stir the pot by bringing up a 2003 radio interview in which Sinema answered the host’s hypothetical comment about joining the Taliban.
“I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead,” Sinema said in the interview.
According to McSally, the answer showed her rival to be a supporter of “treason.” But rather than talk about her past comments, Sinema said McSally ran a negative campaign that used “ridiculous attacks.”
Regarding Roe v. Wade, Sinema answered that she would not support reversing the landmark case that legalized abortion. McSally said only that she is pro-choice.
And on the contentious confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court this month, McSally said she would have voted to confirm and called the attacks on his character “mob rule.” Sinema said she would have opposed him based on the apparent lies under oath and that she was disappointed McSally and others supported him immediately without ever having seen his record.
McSally represents the sprawling Second Congressional District, which stretches from Tucson’s urban core 100 miles east to New Mexico and 50 miles south to Mexico. She is an Air Force Academy graduate and was the nation’s first woman fighter pilot. She entered politics to fill the void left when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and retired.
Sinema represents the urban congressional District 9 in Phoenix. She traces her political roots to Green Party activism and an unsuccessful bid for Congress. After growing up poor in Tucson, Sinema went to Arizona State University and became a social worker. She served four terms in the Arizona House of Representatives and one term in the Arizona Senate.
The race is close and has fallen within the margin of error on several recent polls.
An OH Predictive Insights/ABC News poll conducted Oct. 1-2 has McSally leading with support of 47 percent of voters versus 41 percent backing Sinema, while an Arizona State University poll taken from Sept. 10-25 showed Sinema leading 43 percent to 37 percent.
Fridkin said Arizona’s changing demographics give Sinema a chance. Over the past 10-20 years, the state has shifted left as the Latino population has risen and more liberal residents move in from the east and California. She said both candidates have drifted toward the center since they are running for Senate.