PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Sen. Martha McSally and her Democratic challenger Mark Kelly meet Tuesday in what's likely to be the only debate of the campaign.
The faceoff provides Ms. McSally a much-needed chance to gain ground on Kelly, a retired astronaut who has consistently led the race in polling and fundraising, just before voters begin casting ballots. In-person early voting begins Wednesday and election officials around the state will begin dropping absentee ballots in the mail the same day.
For Mr. Kelly, a first-time candidate, the debate is a chance to show his mettle under pressure. He has presented himself as an independent thinker not beholden to either political party, a point he's likely to drive home at the debate. He's relentlessly attacked Ms. McSally for voting repeatedly to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care law, which he says would leave people with preexisting health conditions facing high costs, if they can get coverage at all.
Mr. Kelly, a former Navy pilot, is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the ahead during a constituent event in Tucson in 2011. The couple went on to found an advocacy group that works around the country to advance gun-control laws such as a universal background check requirement.
Ms. McSally has fought to pierce Mr. Kelly's independent image and yoke him to the left wing of the Democratic Party. She's worked to remind Republicans frustrated with her and President Donald Trump that Mr. Kelly is a Democrat who could enable his party to enact its agenda. She's also attacked him over a space-tourism business he co-founded, which works out of a building built by Pima County and received an investment from a company in China.
As an Air Force pilot, Ms. McSally was the first American woman to fly in combat and later the first woman to command a fighter squadron in combat. After retiring, she was elected to the U.S. House from the district once represented by Ms. Giffords, repeatedly eking out narrow victories in a closely matched district. She ran for Arizona's other Senate seat in 2018 but lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, and Gov. Doug Ducey later appointed her to the seat previously held by John McCain until his death of an aggressive brain cancer in 2018.
The 90-minute debate is sponsored by four Arizona media outlets: The Arizona Republic, Arizona PBS, KJZZ and Arizona Public Media. It airs starting at 7 p.m. on the public radio and television stations in Phoenix and Tucson.