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McSally proposes 7 debates as Arizona Senate race heats up

August 5, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this May 6, 2020, file photo, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Arizona will be in the national spotlight in November as a presidential battleground and the home of one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country. But Tuesday's primary on Aug. 4 features few big-ticket contests. McSally faces a challenge from businessman Daniel McCarthy, who is running to her right with an anti-government message and an appeal to voters who think the response to the pandemic is infringing on individual freedoms. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)
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FILE - In this May 6, 2020, file photo, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Arizona will be in the national spotlight in November as a presidential battleground and the home of one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country. But Tuesday's primary on Aug. 4 features few big-ticket contests. McSally faces a challenge from businessman Daniel McCarthy, who is running to her right with an anti-government message and an appeal to voters who think the response to the pandemic is infringing on individual freedoms. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)
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FILE - In this May 6, 2020, file photo, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Arizona will be in the national spotlight in November as a presidential battleground and the home of one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country. But Tuesday's primary on Aug. 4 features few big-ticket contests. McSally faces a challenge from businessman Daniel McCarthy, who is running to her right with an anti-government message and an appeal to voters who think the response to the pandemic is infringing on individual freedoms. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — 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.”

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Kelly’s campaign manager, Jen Cox, did not directly respond to McSally’s proposal for seven debates but said Kelly has accepted a debate invitation hosted by the Arizona Republic and public media outlets and would like to do another with Univision.

“Mark looks forward to debating Senator McSally, ensuring Arizonans know about her record of voting to gut protections for pre-existing conditions, and demonstrating Mark’s science-based, independent approach to slow the spread of the virus and rebuild our economy for the future,” Cox said in a statement.

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.

McSally said she’ll accept three debate invitations from media outlets in Phoenix and Tucson and wants to pursue three others in rural areas of the state, along with one televised nationally.

Her argument against Kelly came into sharper focus after she secured the GOP nomination Tuesday night. 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.”

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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.