https://www.theepochtimes.com/arizona-senate-candidate-courts-moderate-voters-in-late-campaign-pivot_4787408.html

Arizona’s Senate candidates are looking to sway voters to their side and appeal to moderates in a state that’s been more purple than red in the past two elections.

As part of this endeavor, Arizona’s current Senator, Mark Kelly, squared off against Republican challenger and political newcomer Blake Masters in a contentious debate that saw the candidates answering questions on inflation, the border, abortion, election integrity, and President Joe Biden.

Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Blake Masters speaks during his election night watch party in Chandler, Ariz., on Aug. 2, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Masters has taken a hard-core Trump supporter stance in the past, while Kelly has continually courted moderates by highlighting his willingness to work across the aisle. But the Oct. 6 debate saw Masters softening his stance on issues like abortion and election integrity and blasting Kelly as a far-left candidate, not a moderate, by pointing to his partisan voting record.

Further showing he’s aware of Arizona’s more moderate political climate, Masters scrubbed his campaign website of past references to his early MAGA support, his “100 percent” pro-life stance, and his view that if elections were “fair, ” Donald Trump would be president. Positions that were listed on his website as late as Aug. 18, according to website archives.

Inflation Reduction Act and the Border

Neither Kelly nor Masters has refrained from publicly attacking the other on issues like abortion, inflation, and the border. But the debate was the first and only time the two met in person to discuss their differences.

The first question went to Kelly and centered on inflation and what he’s done to help control rising costs while in Washington. To highlight his independence, Kelly stated he’d worked to reduce oil prices by telling Biden he was “wrong” not to increase oil and gas production.

Masters minced no words when he volleyed back that, contrary to his claim to independence, Kelly caused the rise in inflation by voting in lockstep with Biden’s priorities. He cited Biden’s “war” on oil and gas as a primary cause of inflation and said Kelly’s voting record showed he supported the president in this “war.”

Epoch Times Photo
Mark Kelly speaks to supporters during the Election Night event in Tucson, Ariz., on Nov. 3, 2020. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

Reporting by FiveThirtyEight supports Masters’ accusation as Kelly voted in line with Biden’s position 94.4 percent of the time.

To further highlight Kelly’s partisanship, and to bring up an issue near and dear to Arizonans, Masters pointed out that Kelly rejected needed border protections for Arizona with his recent vote for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“Kelly voted for 87,000 new IRS agents in the IRA. But first, he had to reject hiring 18,000 more border patrol agents. Mark Kelly said no to 18,000 more border patrol agents. Yes, to 87,000 new IRA agents. That shows you what his priorities are. Mark Kelly left our southern border wide open.”

In response to those allegations, Kelly sputtered, “I worked in Washington to bring more border patrol agents to the state of Arizona. $1 billion for staffing and securing and monitoring systems. … I worked to make sure we have the money, so we have more border patrol agents on the ground.”

Masters hit back, “Did you or did you not vote to reject 18,000 more border patrol agents in the Inflation Reduction Act package?”

Abortion Extremism Accusations

After debating the border, the candidates moved to abortion, where each tried to paint the other as an extremist.

Kelly took the first question and, when asked if he would codify Roe v. Wade, responded, “Of course!” Kelly stated that when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Arizona women lost the right to make their own decisions. Kelly called that “devastating” and “wrong” and accused Masters of calling abortion “demonic” and a “religious sacrifice.”

Kelly further accused Masters of extremism by supporting a federal ban on all abortions, even in the case of rape. Kelly stated that, in the past, Masters said he was “100 percent pro-life” and supported a Constitutional amendment recognizing that unborn babies are human.

Epoch Times Photo
Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for their official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, on Oct. 7, 2022. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Rejecting Kelly’s accusation, Masters stated that he is, indeed, pro-life, but that means he supports “limits” and “exceptions” on the issue of abortion and pointed to his recent support of a 15-week ban on abortions. However, the 15-week defense highlights Masters’ move towards a more moderate position.

Archives of Masters’ campaign website show that in August, Masters supported a Constitutional amendment recognizing unborn babies are human, along with the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, the SAVE Moms and Babies Act, and other pro-life legislation.” Masters’ current website doesn’t list support for these Acts.

To paint Kelly as an extremist, Masters pointed to Kelly’s recent co-sponsorship of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which, if passed, would have removed all restrictions on abortion. Masters highlighted that the Act allowed abortion “for any reason, all the way up until the moment a baby is due to be born,” which is something the rest of the “civilized” world rejected.

Masters further hammered Kelly’s extremism by stating that the Act would have aligned the United States with the abortion policies of North Korea and China.

Election Integrity and Biden

Turning to election integrity and whether Biden is a legitimate president, Masters was the first to take a question, and his answer further proved his shift towards moderation.

An archive of Masters’ August campaign website states, “The 2020 election was a rotten mess— if we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today and America would be so much better off.”

But when asked during the debate if Biden was legitimately elected, Masters softened his previous stance and replied that Biden is president and was duly elected. He then downplayed his earlier claims of voter fraud and pivoted to arguing that the FBI helped elect Biden.

Epoch Times Photo
Then-President Donald Trump, left, and then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in file photographs. (Getty Images)

Specifically, Masters pointed to companies like Facebook censoring information on Hunter Biden’s alleged crimes because the FBI pressured them to do so. He added that the coordinated censoring of that story by “Big Tech,” the media, and government agencies, should worry every citizen concerned about election integrity. Masters said he believes in a single election day, not “election season,” and universal voter ID.

In answer to the same question, Kelly replied that he believes the Arizona election was fair and accurately certified, and those questioning elections need “to stop.” He then accused Masters of past extremism when he released a video claiming the election was “stolen” from Trump. Kelly added that Masters wants to install policies that make voting harder.

Masters didn’t address the video but flatly rejected Kelly’s accusation of making it harder to vote. Instead, he stated he wants to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat” and pointed out that in his response, Kelly refused to address the FBI working to suppress unfavorable information on Hunter Biden.

Arizona Decides

On Sept. 9, Emerson College Polling  showed Kelly at 47 percent, Masters at 45 percent, and five percent of voters undecided. Now, average polling data collected by RealClearPolitics has Kelly at 49 percent and Masters at 44.9 percent.

With political vitriol at a fever pitch around the country, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is a hard core partisan. For Arizona, the past two elections point towards a more moderate electorate.

Seemingly as a result of Arizona’s moderate electorate, Masters has taken measures to soften his previous hard-core Trump support. A pivot, which while last minute, could still pay off in November.

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats control 48 seats, Republicans control 50, and Independents hold two. However, the Independents caucus with Democrats, effectively dividing the Senate 50/50 and giving Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. She votes with the Democrats, giving Democrats a razor-thin working majority.

Because the margin of control is razor-thin, if Republicans net just one of the four toss-up seats on Nov. 8, they’ll gain control of the Senate with 51 seats. For Democrats to solidify their Senate control, they’ll need to successfully flip a “Leans R” or “Likely R” seat.

Arizona is one of the four “toss-up” races, and as such, the election of either Kelly or Masters could decide Senate control in 2023.

Neither Masters nor Kelly responded to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.

Katie Spence

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Katie covers energy and politics for The Epoch Times. Before starting her career as a journalist, Katie proudly served in the Air Force as an Airborne Operations Technician on JSTARS. She obtained her degree in Analytic Philosophy and a minor in Cognitive Studies from the University of Colorado. Katie’s writing has appeared on CNSNews.com, The Maverick Observer, The Motley Fool, First Quarter Finance, The Cheat Sheet, and Investing.com. Email her at katie.spence@epochtimes.us

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