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Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly & Blake Masters squared off Thursday in their only debate
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Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly & Blake Masters squared off Thursday in their only debate

  • From left, Mark Kelly, Marc Victor and Blake Masters prepare for a U.S. Senate debate at Arizona PBS in Phoenix.
    Alexia Faith/Cronkite NewsFrom left, Mark Kelly, Marc Victor and Blake Masters prepare for a U.S. Senate debate at Arizona PBS in Phoenix.

In a contentious debate, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly painted his Republican opponent as someone who “thinks he knows better than you,” while Blake Masters repeatedly sought to cast Kelly as tied at the hip with President Joe Biden, who is broadly unpopular among voters, according to political polling. 

Kelly, a former Navy pilot and astronaut who won a special election in 2020 and is now seeking a full six-year Senate term, and venture capitalist Masters got the majority of the talking time Thursday evening in a debate televised live on Arizona PBS, while Libertarian lawyer Marc Victor was sometimes pushed to the sidelines. 

The candidates discussed and sometimes traded barbs over inflation, immigration, abortion rights, the 2020 election and Arizona’s water crisis. 

Inflation

Masters blamed inflation on Kelly and Biden, specifically on their “war against oil and gas.” When oil and gas prices increased, so did the cost of everything else that is made or shipped using those energy sources, Masters said. 

“They caused this crushing inflation, and it’s ruining people’s lives,” Masters said. 

He also attributed inflation to Democrats approving $6 trillion in domestic spending since Biden became president. 

“Joe Biden is spending like a drunken sailor, and at every opportunity, Mark Kelly says ‘yes’” Masters said. 

Kelly said he’d been working to help cut costs for consumers, including standing up to big pharmaceutical companies to help reign in costs for senior citizens. He also refuted Masters’ claim that he sided with Biden’s actions on oil and gas companies. 

“When Joe Biden refused to increase oil and gas production, I told him he was wrong,” Kelly said. 

Throughout the debate Kelly repeated that Masters favors privatizing Social Security, a policy that Kelly said would hurt seniors more than any other policy. After winning the GOP nomination, Masters walked back that policy position, and now says he opposes privatization.

Victor said that inflation was the fault of foolish economic policies of both Republicans and Democrats over the past several administrations. 

Immigration

“Our southern border is a mess,” Kelly said, acknowledging that the area is in crisis. 

Kelly said he’s worked to bring more Border Patrol agents to Arizona and to better fund staffing and technology for the border Patrol. He added that he has introduced  legislation to increase pay for Border Patrol agents. 

“I’ve been focused on the border since Day One on this job,” Kelly said. 

Masters retorted that if Kelly has been doing his best to make things better at the border, he should probably resign. 

The Republican claimed that Kelly and Biden had given up Arizona’s southern border to drug cartels, adding that when illegal immigrants come to the U.S.,they are given envelopes full of cash, plane tickets and are put up in hotel rooms in Scottsdale.

“The Mexican drug cartels, if these narcos could vote in this election, every single one of them would vote for Senator Kelly,” Masters said. 

Kelly said he supports giving citizenship to Dreamers, people brought to the U.S. illegally as children but who grew up here, because he views them no differently than his own children. Masters previously said he opposed citizenship for Dreamers. 

Kelly and Masters both lamented the increasing problem with fentanyl, much of it coming from Mexico

Kelly said he voted to rebuild the country’s ports of entry because, for example, the one in Nogales only has one lane out of 12 with the technology to scan for fentanyl.

Abortion

Kelly said he believes Roe v. Wade should be codified into law. 

“Arizona women have totally lost the right to make their own decision about abortion,” Kelly said, referring to Arizona’s full abortion ban that went into effect Sept. 23. 

Masters said he is pro-life, but would support the 15-week ban approved by the state Legislature earlier this year. That’s the law that Gov. Doug Ducey says is currently in effect, but Attorney General Mark Brnovich and many other authorities say Arizona’s full ban dating to 1864 is the law of the land. 

But he continually dodged a question from moderator Ted Simons, who asked about language on his website regarding abortion that was changed after he won the Republican primary. Masters had previously said he was pro-life from the point of conception, endorsed a nationwide ban on all abortions and had been accused of changing the language to win over moderates. 

Masters then accused Kelly of supportiing abortion “up until the moment of birth.”

“That’s nonsense,” Kelly said, adding that late-term abortions are usually performed because of problems with a pregnancy, and typically with a pregnancy that was wanted. 

2020 Election

Masters, who previously promoted the “Big Lie” that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election, said that he’d seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud in 2020. 

However, he said that Trump would have won if the FBI and the media hadn’t worked together ahead of the election to suppress information about the corrupt business dealings of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son.

“The only reason that we’re having this conversation is because Masters put out a video questioning who won the presidential election in 2020,” Kelly said. 

He accused Masters of wanting to completely do away with voting by mail, even for U.S. military members deployed outside Arizona, which Masters denied. 

Masters said he believed voting by mail was OK, as long as the voter included a copy of their ID. Arizona voters will decide whether to implement such a requirement in November.

Water

Kelly accused Masters of wanting to privatize Arizona’s water. He contrasted that with his work in Washington to help farmers keep more water in Lake Mead, one of Arizona’s water sources, and said California and Nevada need to step up their efforts for water conservation in the Colorado Basin. 

Masters accused Kelly of “acting like the third senator from California” and said California should be getting its water from the ocean, using nuclear-powered desalination plants, not the Colorado River. 

California has primary water rights to Colorado River water, and has since 1922, when the seven Colorado Basin states signed the Colorado River Compact. 

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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