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U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly leads Republican challenger Masters

KELLY MASTERS ELEX 22.png
Lisa Sturgis/KAWC
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Arizona U.S. Senate candidates Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican Blake Masters.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- With control of the U.S. Senate possibly at stake, early votes show incumbent Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly with a 57.0% to 40.7% lead over Republican challenger Blake Masters.
This comes as Kelly is trying to get a full six-year term of his own in the Senate seat that used to be occupied by John McCain.
But the race could be decided on whether voters find financial or social issues to be more important.
Masters has sought to portray Kelly, elected in 2020, as little more than a political clone of a president with his own popularity problems. And that centers around high gasoline prices, inflation and supply chain issues.
Kelly, by contrast, has sought to convey the message that he parts ways with Joe Biden when he disagrees with him, particularly on issues of border security. That, however, has not immunized attacks on him based on the flood of migrants entering from Mexico as well the spread of fentanyl.
What he may have working in his favor -- aside from massive campaign spending of nearly $80 million as of Oct. 19 -- are voters who may be more concerned about positions that Masters has taken on the hot-button issue of abortion. And Kelly's supporters have spent at least another $15 million pointing up Masters' sometimes conflicting statements on the issue.
There's a video clip making its rounds on the airwaves about what Masters thinks of abortion.
"It's a religious sacrifice to these people,'' he says. "I think it's demonic.''
His campaign website said he was "100% pro life'' and supported a "federal personhood law (ideally a constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.''
Masters subsequently scrubbed sch references from his campaign web site. Instead, he announced his support for a ban at 15 weeks, something that is currently the law in Arizona while judges determine if that measure, approved earlier this year, supersedes a territorial-era law that forbids abortions at any stage of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother.
But Masters also said that 15-week limit should be made national law, which would overturn more liberal statutes in other states. It also would foreclose any possibility that Arizonans could go to the ballot in 2024 to return the law here to the way it was before the Supreme Court voided Roe v. Wade: allowing a pregnancy to be terminated up until a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, generally considered to be between 22 and 23 weeks.
Kelly, by contrast, said he supports a national law that would restore that legal standard to what it was under Roe.
But he also voted in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act which would have barred states from criminalizing abortion of a viable fetus in cases where the life or health of a woman was at risk.
Those abortions, which were rare -- 99.6% of abortions in Arizona in the most recent reporting year were 20 weeks or less -- were allowed under Roe and subsequent Supreme Court rulings. But it led Masters to claim that Kelly "voted to legalize abortion up until the moment of birth.''
Masters also has had to answer questions about his statement during the GOP primary that "maybe we should privatize Social Security'' and that "we've got to cut the knot at some point,'' citing financial stability issues around the program. But he took a more nuanced approach after becoming the Republican nominee, saying he doesn't want to "pull the rug out'' from current recipients and wants to take a look at other options and "shoring up the system.''
All that, however, may not matter if voters are focused on more immediate pocketbook issues.
The Federal Reserve Board just raised interest rates again, a move that is pushing up not just the cost of home mortgages but also credit card debt and car loans. Masters also has noted that Phoenix has the highest rate of inflation of the largest metro areas in the entire country.
And while gasoline prices recently have dropped, they still remain about 75 cents a gallon over where they were a year ago.
All of that works against not just Kelly but Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in Arizona and elsewhere.
Then there's the border.
Masters said that Kelly shares the blame with Biden for the flood of people entering the United States illegally, a message that gets reinforced with images of migrants on TV.
Kelly, for his part, has sought to immunize himself by pointing out that he disagrees with Biden on his decision to suspend Title 42, a law that permits the United States to expel virtually all non-citizens who arrive in this country due to health concerns. Instead, the senator has introduced legislation to delay that decision until the U.S. actually has "a detailed plan'' in place to deal with the migrants.
Masters is also being carried along with some Republican faithful by gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake who has promoted a Lake-Blake ticket.
There is no such campaign link between Kelly and Democrat Katie Hobbs who is waging her own race for governor. But Kelly has other things working in his favor.
One is his marriage to Gabrielle Giffords, who, as a member of Congress, was the target of an assassination attempt. That led Kelly down the road of seeking greater regulation of firearms.
More visible is the time he spent in the military as a Navy pilot and astronaut, both underlined in multiple TV commercials showing him in a uniform and a space suit.
And Kelly is reaching out to moderate Republicans, praising McCain and his reputation for reaching across the political aisle. By contrast, current leaders of the Arizona Republican Party have sought to distance the GOP from McCain. And gubernatorial hopeful Lake just last week called McCain, who died of cancer in 2018, as a "loser'' and telling any McCain Republicans to "get the hell out'' of her campaign event.
Masters campaign likely got a boost from the decision at the end of last month by Libertarian candidate Marc Victor to drop out of the race. Victor, who never polled outside the single digits, said he conversed with Masters and concluded that he would be a better choice for voters than Kelly.
But that was three weeks after early voting had started, leaving questions of how many Victor supporters already has cast their ballots.
The campaign here has drawn national attention as the Senate is currently split 50-50, giving Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. Republicans are hoping to pick up one seat to regain control, with the races in Arizona and Georgia being particular opportunities.
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On Twitter: @azcapmedia