PHOENIX — Down in the polls simply days earlier than Arizona voters start casting ballots, Republican Sen. Martha McSally got here out swinging in opposition to her Democratic challenger in their solely face-to-face debate Tuesday, accusing retired astronaut Mark Kelly of obfuscating his true beliefs.

Kelly accused McSally and President Donald Trump of failing to steer the nation by the coronavirus outbreak, bringing on an financial calamity and leaving individuals struggling. He offered himself, as he has all through the marketing campaign, as an unbiased voice uninterested in partisan politics.

Each returned again and again to their favored theme all through the 90-minute debate that touched on the response to COVID-19, the Supreme Court, well being care, immigration, weapons, local weather change and extra. Both at occasions drew on their expertise as fight pilots, Kelly for the Navy and McSally for the Air Force.

McSally unveiled a brand new nickname for her rival, branding him “counterfeit Kelly,” a phrase she used at the very least 10 occasions as she made the case that the Democrat’s unbiased rhetoric would give approach to a liberal voting report in Washington. Her enchantment is geared toward conservative-leaning voters who could also be turned off by Trump and drawn to Kelly’s message of independence.

“You have a choice here,” McSally mentioned. “You have somebody who’s been a fighter for you and will continue to be a fighter for Arizona, or a counterfeit who will enable the radical left and their agenda to be forced on us.”

Kelly, a first-time candidate, confronted maybe his hardest problem of the race after spending a lot of the yr campaigning by digital occasions from his house. He didn’t maintain his punches, saying McSally sat by whereas Trump squandered time to reply aggressively to the pandemic and assist individuals by the financial fallout.

“Senator, you understand this as a pilot: you guys did step one of the emergency procedure, and then you didn’t do anything else,” Kelly mentioned. “And that is a colossal failure.”

Kelly has repeatedly declined to say whether or not he’d vote for Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic chief, to be majority chief if his social gathering takes management of the Senate. He’s additionally declined to take a place on eliminating the filibuster, a requirement for many main laws to get 60 votes in the Senate, which many Democrats see as a significant obstacle to their means to enact their agenda. He provided no additional readability on both query Tuesday.

On the filibuster, he mentioned solely that he’ll give it “careful consideration” if it comes up.

“Washington is broken, and this highlights how broken it is that we’re having these fights over old Senate rules,” Kelly mentioned.

McSally mentioned Kelly was “trying to say basically nothing to get elected.”

The faceoff supplied McSally a much-needed probability to realize floor on Kelly, who has constantly led the race in polling and fundraising, simply earlier than voters start casting ballots. In-person early voting begins Wednesday and election officers across the state will start dropping absentee ballots in the mail the identical day.

Throughout the marketing campaign McSally has fastidiously averted criticizing Trump, who maintains overwhelming assist inside her Republican base however is unpopular with most of the extra average voters who will resolve the election.

She deflected repeated questions on whether or not she’s proud to assist Trump or would have been proud to serve below him throughout her Air Force profession. But she did supply a uncommon criticism of the president for his repeated feedback important of the late Sen. John McCain, the beloved Arizona Republican who died in 2018. She was appointed to his seat, and the election will resolve whether or not she or Kelly finishes McCain’s final time period.

“I publicly and privately, repeatedly talked to President Trump and asked him to stop attacking John McCain,” McSally mentioned. “Quite frankly, it pisses me off when he does it.”

Kelly, a former Navy pilot, is married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the top throughout a constituent occasion in Tucson in 2011. The couple went on to discovered an advocacy group, now recognized merely as Giffords, that works across the nation to advance gun-control legal guidelines reminiscent of a common background examine requirement.

McSally fought to pierce Kelly’s unbiased picture and yoke him to the left wing of the Democratic Party. She pointed to endorsements by the Giffords gun group of liberal Democrats together with U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate David Garcia.

McSally additionally attacked Kelly for ties to China, noting he spoke fondly of a number of journeys to the communist nation and co-founded an organization that acquired an funding from a Chinese agency.

Kelly hammered on McSally’s votes to repeal former President Barack Obama’s well being care legislation, which he says would go away individuals with preexisting well being situations going through excessive prices, if they will get protection in any respect.

As an Air Force pilot, McSally was the primary American girl to fly in fight and later the primary girl to command a fighter squadron in fight. After retiring, she was elected to the U.S. House from the district as soon as represented by Giffords, repeatedly eking out slim victories in a carefully matched district. She ran for Arizona’s different Senate seat in 2018 however misplaced to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, and Gov. Doug Ducey later appointed her to the seat held by McCain till his loss of life of an aggressive mind most cancers.

The candidates, their aides and the moderators have been examined for COVID-19 earlier than the talk, and so they have been separated on the set by plexiglass screens. McSally and Kelly didn’t shake arms.

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