The Republican and Democrat running for U.S. Senate in Arizona want to be seen as independent
To win a statewide campaign in Arizona is to win a race to the middle. For years, independent voters have held the key to victory in the Grand Canyon State.
To that end, Republican Blake Masters and Democrat Mark Kelly have spent much of their campaign for U.S. Senate painting each other as radical, dangerous and out of touch with Arizonans — anything but the independent each claims to be.
For his part, Kelly — who holds a sizable fundraising advantage — has let his money do the talking. Kelly’s spent big on ads highlighting Masters’ past comments on the military, Social Security, and, most of all, abortion.
“Blake Masters has made his dangerous ideas on abortion easy to understand,” one such ad declares, and quotes Masters saying: “‘I think Roe v. Wade was wrong. It's always been wrong. It's a religious sacrifice to these people. I think it's demonic.’”
At their lone debate, Kelly repeatedly attacked Masters for supporting a national abortion ban.
“I think we all know guys like this, you know, guys that think they know better than everyone about everything,” Kelly said. “You know, you think you know better than women and doctors about abortion.”
On the campaign trail, Masters insists his message hasn’t changed and says he’s proud to be pro-life.
“I'm saying the same stuff I said in the primary,” Masters said at a campaign rally in south Phoenix.
In part, that’s true. Masters has stuck to a consistent message that President Joe Biden and Kelly have made life worse for Arizonans.
But in an effort to appeal to Arizona’s independent voters, he has in fact softened his previous hard-line stances on abortion. Shortly after winning the GOP primary, NBC News reported that Masters scrubbed his campaign website of certain pro-life statements, including his support for a federal personhood law — an effort to eliminate most or all abortions.
It’s a clear sign of the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as a sign that in Arizona, races are best won by appealing to the middle. At that same September campaign rally in south Phoenix, Masters insisted that Kelly is the one who’s radical on abortion.
“I believe that there needs to be limits on abortion. I really do,” Masters told the audience. “You can debate where the limits are, I think people disagree about this.”
More recently, Masters has supported a 15-week ban, both nationally and in Arizona by a law passed earlier this year.
On the campaign trail, Masters has also made an effort to nudge Kelly from the middle by tying him to a president with poor approval ratings: Joe Biden.
“Mark Kelly, of course, he signs on to every spending bill that Joe Biden puts in front of him. They printed trillions and trillions of dollars, and when they do that, they're just stealing from you,” Masters said. “It just makes the dollars in your wallet less and less valuable, and they’re stealing from our future generations as well.”
In 2020, it was easy for Kelly, a first-time candidate, to run as less of a Democrat and more of an independent.
Now Kelly must defend himself against skyrocketing inflation, a struggling economy and a voting record that by some measures aligns most closely with his own party — a record Masters leapt on during the debate.
“Two years ago, Mark Kelly stood right there. And he promised to be independent. But he broke that promise,” Masters said.
While he attacks back against Masters on the airwaves, Kelly uses campaign events to tout his accomplishments, like votes for the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
“You know, I make decisions in Washington based on what's in the best interests of our state,” Kelly said following a manufacturing press conference at Arizona State University.
Kelly also highlights the southern border as an issue where he’s stood up to Biden and his fellow Democrats. During the debate, Kelly alluded to his opposition to Biden’s plans to lift Title 42, a protocol that’s kept tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers from entering the U.S.
“You know, when the president decided he was going to do something dumb on this and change the rules, you know, that would create a bigger crisis,” Kelly said. “You know, I told him he was wrong.”