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Sen. Mark Kelly, Blake Masters clash in debate for U.S. Senate race in Arizona

Howard Fischer/CMS
Arizona Republican Blake Masters listens Thursday night as incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly makes a point during a televised debate in Phoenix.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizona Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters sought to distance himself Thursday from his earlier statements that abortions should be illegal nationwide.
But Masters acknowledged he does want a national law on the issue, one that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks -- even if states want to let women terminate their pregnancies later than that point.
And he accused Democrat Mark Kelly of supporting the right to abortion right up until birth, a claim that the incumbent senator did not exactly deny. Instead, Kelly said Congress should enshrine what was the standard under the now-overturned decision of Roe v. Wade.
Libertarian Marc Victor said both are wrong. He said that if there are to be abortion restrictions they should be enacted at the most local level possible.
"We need a policy that recognizes reasonable minds disagree on this issue,'' said Victor during the hour-long debate on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate.
"Mesa should pass a law that the people in Mesa like,'' he said. "And the people in Tempe should pass a law that the people in Tempe like.''
And Victor said that whatever laws are adopted, there should always be exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
The debate also featured the candidates trading barbs over border security and inflation.
Masters said that Kelly is effectively a political clone of President Joe Biden, supporting an open border philosophy.
Kelly, for his part, said he has parted ways with the president and other Democrats, arguing for more Border Patrol officers and physical barriers where they make sense. And he criticized Masters for his stance that there should never be a path to citizenship for "dreamers'' who came to this country as children.
"I think that it's mean and it's fundamentally un-American,'' Kelly said, calling the tens of thousands of them in Arizona "as American as my own two kids.''
Masters, however, said if Kelly was as interested in border security as he claims -- and willing to do battle with his own party -- he could have withheld his votes for Biden's programs in the 50-50 Senate until he got what he wanted, including 18,000 more Border Patrol agents.
"Biden would have had to secure the border,'' Masters said. Instead, he said, Kelly is "the most ineffective and worst senator of all time.''
Kelly said he has introduced legislation to increase both the number and salary of Border Patrol agents. Masters, however, preferred to focus on Kelly voting for a bill that included hiring 87,000 more agents for the Internal Revenue Service.
Kelly said they are necessary.
"We need folks in government to go after big businesses and the wealthiest Americans who try to cheat on their taxes, that have armies of accountants and lawyers,'' he said.
"If we can't collect taxes from the wealthiest Americans and the largest corporations that are cheating on their taxes, you know who pays?'' Kelly continued. "Middle class Americans pay.''
Masters said he wasn't buying it.
"They're not just going after billionaires,'' he said. "They're going to be auditing you, they're going to be auditing your small businesses this time next year.''
But some of the sharpest discussion came on the question of abortion.
The issue has taken on new focus in Arizona following the Supreme Court voiding Roe v. Wade.
That returned the decision to the states. And Attorney General Mark Brnovich got a Pima County judge to rule that allows prosecutors to enforce a territorial-era law that ban all abortions except to save the life of the mother, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Before that ruling, Masters had said that Roe needed to be repealed and that abortion was "a religious sacrifice to these people, I think it's demonic.''
And his campaign website that he was "100% pro life'' and that he supported a "federal personhood law (ideally a constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.''
Those comments are now gone, with Masters sidestepping questions from host Ted Simons about whether he had "scrubbed'' the site.
Now, Masters said he is still pro life. But he also said he supports exceptions and limits. And that means, he said, he supports a ban at 15 weeks, similar to what state lawmakers approved earlier this year even though that Pima County ruling said it did not supersede the territorial-era law.
But Masters went farther, saying he now wants that 15-week limit made national, saying it would preclude later-term abortions that are now allowed in other states.
That also would constrain any efforts in Arizona to return the law here to the way it was before the Supreme Court overturned Roe and its constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy up to the point of viability, considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks.
Masters, however, preferred to focus on the fact that it also would preclude is abortion up until the moment of birth, something he said Kelly has backed.
Kelly called that "nonsense,'' saying he only supports abortions that were allowed under Roe v. Wade.
That ruling, however, declared only states cannot regulate pre-viability abortions.
It did allow individual states to regulate and permit abortions beyond that point if doctors are willing to perform them, as some states have done. And Kelly did not disavow wanting to keep that legal.
"Abortion only happens very late in pregnancy when there are serious issues,'' he said.
"And, folks, it's heartbreaking when it happens,'' Kelly continued. "And, often, the child is wanted.''
Simons got Masters to concede that Biden is the legitimate president -- something other statewide GOP candidates have refused to admit -- and there is no evidence of election fraud to the extent it would have affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. But Masters said the outcome might have been affected by other forces.
"The FBI forced Facebook, pressured Facebook and other big-tech companies to censor true information about Hunter Biden's crime in the weeks before the 2020 election,'' he said, a reference to the claim that the president and his son was involved in illegal activities dealing with Ukraine. None of that ever was proved.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia