A long-awaited debate in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District saw Republican Martha McSally and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Barber spar over the border and gun control. But amidst questions about actual policy, the candidates spent much of the debate in Tucson berating one another for running “false” or “vile” television ads.
Tucson airwaves have been flooded with ads attacking McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, and Barber, who’s served in Congress for three years. Some have come from the candidates, but the harshest have come from their political allies and enemies, as national political committees descend on CD2 to influence what’s considered one of the closest congressional races in the country.
McSally challenged Barber late in the debate to denounce an ad run by retired U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who’s supported the incumbent Democrat with ads and mailers paid for by her political committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
The ad, which was eventually shelved by Giffords, tied McSally’s refusal to support expanding background checks for the purchase of firearms to the shooting death of a Tucson woman’s daughter and husband by a stalker.
McSally noted the Arizona Republic had called the ad vile and claimed it was taken down for its poor taste, before directly addressing Barber and asking for an apology.
Barber refused to denounce the ad run his political ally, Giffords.
“What you said happened to you Martha is horrific and should happen to no woman… I want to make sure that every woman is protected,” Barber said. But “that ad was not run by me, and I’m not going to talk about an ad that I didn’t sponsor.”
But he supported Giffords’ main point in the ad: that McSally has refused to support expanding background checks, which he said would help keep guns out of dangerous hands.
The wide-ranging hour-long debate addressed other issues as well, from claims about who’s more supportive of the A-10 – a fighter jet vital to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – and who is better fit to continue fighting a proposal by the Air Force to shelve the jet.
McSally pointed to her service in the Air Force as an experience that would guide her in Congress on a range of issues, from protecting jobs at the base and continuing reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs, to developing a better foreign policy on dealing with the terror group ISIS, and securing the border.
When asked for a specific measure she’d support on immigration, McSally suggested overhauling the country’s regulations for acquiring visas so immigrants trained in Tucson can stay in Tucson, rather than compete with America’s economy overseas.
And McSally took every opportunity available to blast Barber, who she labeled as an ineffective leader during his stint in Congress.
“I’m offering an option to hire somebody new, because Washington’s broken and Ron Barber is a part of the problem,” McSally said. “We can change Washington by changing who we send to Washington.”
Barber said his voting record in Congress shows he’s an independent-minded lawmaker who will vote for Tucson, and not necessarily with the Democratic Party, when it comes to finding tangible ways to define border security and make life easier for small businesses in the district.
The congressman said he supports President Obama’s policies for dealing with ISIS, though he acknowledges the president “was late to the table on this… we should’ve seen it coming.”
But the debate never strayed far from accusations of lies in television advertisements, leading one viewer – questions were submitted to Arizona Public Media via Twitter – to ask: “How can voters trust anything you either of you say in these ads?”
McSally said the ads are a part of what’s “wrong with Washington.”
“We have an incumbent sitting congressman who’s spending most of his campaign, him and his allies, and most of this debate so far, instead of talking about his record, actually attacking me with misleading facts,” McSally said, labeling Barber and his allies’ ads as scare-tactics.
Barber later responded with his own fact-check of McSally’s latest ad, in which she claims Barber skipped a congressional hearing on ISIS.
Barber pulled an attendance sheet out of his jacket pocket that he said marked his attendance as present at meeting, and blasted McSally for engaging in “misinformation and misrepresentation.” Barber also claimed McSally is distorting her positions on issues such as Social Security and the retirement age to appear more moderate.
“The important thing here is trust,” Barber said. “Do you know who the candidates are and what they really represent? I believe people here know who I am.”