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What the Devil won't tell you

Sinema plays it cool, McSally runs hot in Senate debate

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally burst into her only televised debate with fellow U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema ready to rock. If by “rock” you mean shoot up the joint with a Gatling gun.

Sinema stood composed, if by composed you mean it was “Kyrsten Sinema Model 002018 Purple.”

The two congresswomen are locked in a nationally watched, back-and-forth race for Arizona's open seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bottom line is that if you love Donald Trump, you’ll like McSally. She doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on supporting the president's rule of the GOP with an iron fist, despite his iffy poll numbers in Arizona.

And if you hate Donald Trump, you won't hate Kyrsten Sinema.

By leaps and bounds, it was the best of the debates among Arizona politicos this election season. McSally had the moxie but Sinema repeatedly put her on the defensive. You could tell by McSally’s exasperated denials, as the Democrat’s understated, brainy/smarty-pants posture seemed to piss the Republican candidate off to no end.

Then McSally closed with a wild, flailing wallop. Sinema barely flinched. Maybe she should have counter-punched a bit.

In other words, it’s pretty much where we saw this race going. Sinema is the gold standard smooth-operating Blue Dog. McSally is more of a kick.

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Both are head and shoulders smarter than anyone else running for high office in Arizona, although each has had to do some morphing for political convenience: Sinema has gone from radical protesting Green to centrist Dem; McSally from a pragmatic moderate to a hat-wearing, Trump-boosting MAGA.

Both were asked the “who are you really?” question right out of the gate. 

“As Arizonans know, I’ve been lucky and privileged to serve in this great state....” Pet peeve alert: when politicos say “well as you all know, how pious I am” … no. We don’t know. You have to show us. "I’ve taken the time to learn, to grow and occasionally even change my opinion,” Sinema said.

Occasionally? Occasionally? She went from Che-quoting leftist, to a Mossback conservative Democrat in a what seems like a week and a half (OK, it's closer to 20 years, but hey...).

McSally refused to endorse Trump in 2016 but now, guess who's coming to chow down on some Filet O' Fish?

“I’m going to keep working with him and in fact I’m going to host him at Luke Air Force Base on Friday,” said McSally, who bravely ducked any opportunity to even mention the president's name as he campaigned.

Though she refused to say, when pressed by moderators Ted Simons of KAET-TV in Phoenix and Maria Polletta of the Arizona Republic, whether she was "proud" of how Trump is governing America.

Maybe pride goes down with tartar sauce.

At their best

Both candidates got their licks in, but their best moments in the debate revealed more about themselves as each attempted to deflect the charges laid by the other.

Sinema had a good moment sailing above McSally's heated allegation that Sinema worked in the Legislature to protect "Johns" who hire underage prostitutes.

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“I actually voted yes on both those bills and worked hand in hand with my colleague, Republican Adam Driggs, also an attorney, to toughen the punishment for these bad guys. My first job was as a rape crisis counselor working at a domestic violence center. Since then I’ve committed my entire career to protecting women and children against abuse and assault,” Sinema said.

McSally had a great moment when she whacked at Obamacare and talked up her work to change the U.S. health insurance system.

“There are so many people with pre-existing conditions that can’t get access to health care because the Obamacare model doesn’t work. When things came to a standstill … I sat down with my Democratic colleagues in the Problem Solvers Caucus and we sat down to see, 'is there any way we can find some common ground?' And we came up with a plan.”

The plan, predictably, never went anywhere but the line was McSally touting the pragmatic McSally of old.

Then Sinema counterattacked saying she too was on the Problems Solvers Caucus andnoted  that at one point, McSally gave people with pre-existing conditions the shaft:

“The reality is we took the vote. And Martha voted to repeal these protections.”

Why McSally is dying inside

I’m not going to do this with every charge and counter-charge, there were too many. But let’s settle this pre-existing condition thing right now.

Did Martha McSally vote to repeal pre-existing conditions? Kinda.

She voted for the full Republican-backed "repeal and replace" of Obamacare that was run through the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would have allowed states to opt out of regulations requiring insurers to cover pre-existing conditions if they were that politically stupid or thought they could get away with it in the name of scrubbing Barack Obama from history’s hard drive (hello, Arizona Legislature).

But that’s just part of the full story. McSally had been on the record supporting pre-existing conditions coverage going into the vote, but the bill was what it was and she had to vote yes or no. She voted yes. The anticipation was that the U.S. Senate would pass a less hard-ass bill protecting pre-existing conditions. Then the two bills would be reconciled in a conference committee giving McSally perhaps another crack at voting for a bill that had those protections, or voting no.

Then the Senate screwed the pooch and passed nothing, leaving McSally to slowly die inside with that cancerous vote rotting away her prospects for 2018. If the bill she voted "aye" for had become law, people with pre-existing conditions would almost certainly have lost those protections.

Sinema’s contention that McSally would privatize Social Security has been debunked.

Compromise too far, for Sinema

McSally had her disingenuous moments, too.

She argued that Sinema refused to support compromise bills that would have helped DREAMers when “given the chance.”

Yeah, well, nice try there, Ace.

What actually happened was that Republicans took up legislation that would have supposedly secured the future of Deferred Action on Child Arrivals – young people brought by their parents illegally to this country when they were children.

This was after Trump torpedoed bipartisan talks, while erupting about “shithole countries.”

So what the GOP had in mind was a good-old-fashioned “take it or leave it” filled with provisions that weren't acceptable to Democrats, who were of course purposefully left out of the drafting of the legislation.

That’s not a compromise. That's an ultimatum.

Treason? Seriously?

The debate closed with a moment that either won it or lost it for McSally, depending on what your definition of “gratuitous” is.

McSally uncorked a wild right hook late, side-stepping a question about climate change with a pivot to questioning why she hadn't been asked about the military (as if she hadn't mentioned anything about our troops and her Air Force career yet) and moving to declare Sinema has pro-Taliban sympathies and repeatedly accusing the Democrat of treason.

Game on! Game over … that was the end of the debate, except for Sinema offering a response that did not not include the words “damn dirty lie.” It’s not that crazy to wonder if Sinema Model 002002 Green might have said something along those lines in her Women-in-Black days.

Still, the multiple accusations of treason came off as half-cocked, at best. The first “treason” was edgy. The second was over the edge.

If I’m to score it, I would say Sinema won the strategic game of riling McSally and keeping her on the defensive. Tactically, the sheer entertainment value of watching McSally get wild-armed angry probably made her more relatable.

For all the tough talk inside campaigns of getting the answers right, voters tend to pay more attention to how candidates answer.

Anyway … none of it likely matters.

The last memorable debate performance in Arizona politics was Jan Brewer’s "brain freeze." Staring silently through the camera lens as if looking 1,000 deaths in the eye, she spaced her opening statement for so long that she may not even have started talking yet, all these years later. The performance went viral. Her numbers went up.

So who the hell knows?

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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1 comment on this story

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2 comments
Oct 17, 2018, 12:41 pm
-1 +2

Sinema has left a trail of her radical views, and is now putting on an act. She is a socialist, and when she says she’s not, she’s LYING.

OTOH, McSally is a retired Air Force COLONEL whose career stood on her oath to the Constitution of the U.S. and her bravery.

There is NO comparison.

One is an insurgent, the other a patriot.

If you vote for Sinema, you ain’t worth ****.

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Arizona PBS

McSally and Sinema during Monday's debate.

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