With just over a month to go until November’s midterm elections, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Republican nominee Blake Masters will share the same stage Thursday evening in their only debate in a crucial battleground state race that’s one of a handful which will likely determine if the GOP wins back the Senate majority.
Kelly is a former astronaut who narrowly won election in 2020 to serve the final two years of the term of the late GOP Sen. John McCain, and Masters is a venture capitalist who’s heavily supported by former President Donald Trump. The two frontrunners will join Libertarian nominee Marc Victor for the debate, hosted by Arizona PBS and the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Kelly has crushed Masters when it comes to fundraising and currently holds a 3.9 point advantage over his Republican challenger according to an average of the most recent public opinion polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. The most recent Fox News poll in the state, conducted Sept. 22-26, indicated Kelly with a six-point lead over Masters.
Masters in August captured the GOP Senate nomination in a crowded and combustible primary, thanks to the support of Trump. Masters strongly backed Trump’s unproven claims that his 2020 election loss to President Biden was due to massive voter fraud. Arizona was one of the key swing states where Biden narrowly edged Trump two years ago. Also boosting Masters was the more than $15 million that his former boss, tech billionaire and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, poured into a super PAC backing Masters’ primary campaign.
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The race in Arizona is one of the most expensive in the nation, with the campaigns, party committees, and allied outside groups dishing out over $120 million on ads so far this election cycle.
Chuck Coughlin, veteran Arizona based political consultant, told Fox News that Masters clearly has the most to gain from the debate.
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“It’s a one-on-one opportunity with the incumbent U.S. Senator. Masters hasn’t had that before and there’s a need for him to put some runners on base,” Coughlin said. “Kelly’s campaign has been disciplined. It’s been running the narrative that it wants to run and I think that Masters has been responding to the narrative rather than leading his own. It will be an opportunity for Masters to potentially try and turn the tables and put Kelly on the defensive for the first time.”
Coughlin said he expects Masters to go on the offensive on border security and immigration, which he said “are the biggest issues in Arizona,” and inflation. “Arizona has some of the worst inflation in the country,” he added.
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And Coughlin noted he expects Kelly to argue “how can you believe what [Masters] says” after the GOP nominee has softened his position on banning abortion and on his support for Trump’s repeated re-litigation of the 2020 election. He also expects the senator to spotlight Masters comments criticizing America’s armed forces.