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Well, maybe a brief shower, with occasional distant thunder. Monday evening, two Arizona congresswomen, Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, squared off in a debate. This was the only debate in the campaign. Indeed, both McSally and Sinema refused to debate their primary opponents. The debate will likely do little to move the electorate.
The debate was held in the PBS studio, at the Cronkite School of Journalism, on the downtown Arizona State University campus. There was no live audience. Each candidate stood behind a translucent lectern, with notes on the lectern. Each candidate was asked the same questions in this manner: 90-second answer, 45-second response, followed by up to two minutes of discussion on the topic. The closing comments were one minute apiece. Total time, from administrative introduction through closing statements, was 59 minutes, 42 seconds.
The two moderators were from PBS and the Arizona Republic. No conservative was involved in the selection of questions, let alone the questioning. However, the moderators know the Arizona electorate and had to play it down the center. They played it down the center-left. The moderators pressed Sinema on whether she would have voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. She evaded until finally, she slipped in a “No.” On the other hand, they ended the questions with one on climate change. They tried spinning it for Arizonans as “water shortages.”
Sinema was happy to give a poll-tested answer that gave away none of the craziness of the DNC and the California Democrats. McSally was having none of it, chastising the moderators for the bias in questions not asked: “In Arizona, we have to talk about the military, we have to talk about our veterans.” That was what she then did. The moderators played this off by not having any responses, instead transitioning straight into the candidates’ closing statements.
McSally and Sinema brought their A-games to their only debate. Neither made a serious mistake. Each had their own style, their own plan, and stuck to it.
Congresswoman Sinema needed to come across as moderate, as Arizonan, not as the crazies in California or Washington DC. She did so, from her physical appearance, to her words, to her gestures. She also needed to keep questions about Congresswoman McSally’s political trustworthiness alive. Sinema alternately raised questions about McSally changing positions, and claimed McSally was a rubber stamp for President Trump and Republican extremists who did not have Arizonans’ interests at heart. This was a smart tactic, for reasons laid out in a letter to Congresswoman McSally last week.
Congresswoman McSally needed to shake Sinema’s carefully crafted image, while she apparently calculated she needed to straddle the Republican Establishment – MAGA voters divide. She repeatedly called Sinema’s claims “lies.” McSally rolled out Sinema’s pink tutu, the trash talking in Texas, sex crime legislation comments, and repeated votes with Pelosi. Her strongest charge, which Sinema did not answer, was that comments, about it being acceptable to go fight for the Taliban, supported treason. On that point, McSally demanded Sinema apologize, to all the Americans who have fought in Afghanistan. Sinema completely evaded the issue, with the assistance of the moderators.
This one debate is unlikely to move the electorate, which both candidates still must do, to win over the decisive, undeclared voters. The media must see danger for their candidate, Kyrsten Sinema, as they are expressing outrage about McSally raising the “treason” charge. Given the deep feelings still against “Hanoi Jane,” it cannot be good for the Democrats to have a candidate who did not categorically denounce the Taliban.