PHOENIX - Republican Sen. Martha McSally is challenging Mark Kelly to seven debates, claiming her Democratic rival has evaded scrutiny and presented a manicured image of himself.
McSally proposed an unusually large number of debates for a sitting senator with the bully-pulpit advantages of incumbency, but she must overcome a fundraising and polling deficit in a race that will help determine control of the U.S. Senate. Several other vulnerable GOP senators from other states have similarly proposed large numbers of debates.
“You have a Trojan horse in my opponent who’s not engaging with Arizona voters at all, is trying to win over moderates and Republicans but is not taking a position on anything,” McSally said. “Quite frankly, the media is not asking him any hard questions — if they can even get to him.”
Brad Bainum, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said McSally’s proposal “reeks of desperation.” Kelly’s campaign was preparing a response, said spokesman Jacob Peters.
Kelly, a retired astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, has positioned himself as an independent-minded centrist willing to work across the aisle. Kelly and his Democratic allies have relentlessly focused on McSally’s repeated votes to repeal the federal health care law.
Her argument against Kelly came into sharper focus after she secured the GOP nomination on August 4. In an interview, she said she’ll ask voters to decide who they trust to repair the economy and protect the country and community.
Democrats have surged in Arizona during Donald Trump’s presidency, but Republicans still outnumber them. Key to the race will be the decisions of suburban voters who have often voted for Republicans but are uneasy with Trump and his congressional allies.
McSally is appealing to those voters, attempting to tie Kelly to the left wing of his party and remind them that his victory could help Democrats to a Senate majority that they could use to advance liberal priorities.
She highlighted issues advocated by the progressive wing of the party, such as abolishing the Immigrations and Custom Enforcement agency, cutting military spending and defunding the police.
“These things are dangerous for our country and our communities,” McSally said. “And it’s another contrast and a choice that people need to know before they decide who to vote for.”
While most polls have showed McSally trailing Kelly, she rejected the suggestion she’s the underdog insisting it’s a “dead heat race.”
Meanwhile, McSally defended Arizona’s vote-by-mail system as Trump has said repeatedly that mail voting invites fraud. Absentee ballots — whether cast by mail or dropped off at a polling place — are overwhelmingly preferred by Arizona voters. In Maricopa County, more than 90 percent of primary ballots were cast that way.
“We’ve learned a lot over time on how to do it smartly and how to ensure that it is as secure as possible,” McSally said. That’s different than states without the same experience trying to build quickly build a mail system and educate voters about it, she said.