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6:15 PM Tue, Nov. 13th

Sinema, McSally tackle health care, Trump issues in Senate debate

Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema faced off Monday in their only debate for U.S. Senate. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema faced off Monday in their only debate for U.S. Senate. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX – Hoping to remind voters of her foe's history, Republican senatorial contender Martha McSally said Monday that Kyrsten Sinema, her Democratic foe, is guilty of "treason."

Near the end of the hour-long debate on KAET, McSally brought up a radio interview Sinema did in 2003 during her anti-war days. Asked if it was OK to fight for the Taliban, she said "fine, I don't care if you want to go do that."

Much of the campaign against Sinema has been focused on who she was more than a decade ago, including her opposition to war in the Middle East. McSally hopes to convince voters that Sinema, who since being elected to Congress in 2012, is not the moderate that she proclaims.

After the debate, Sinema brushed aside the questions of what she said years ago.

"Martha's chosen to run a campaign that's based on smears and attacks and that's her choice,'' she said. And what happened in the past, Sinema said, is history.

"Over time I think it makes sense for individuals who are willing to learn and to grow,'' she said.

But Sinema wasn't the only one on the defensive as the pair, in a virtual dead heat to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Flake, each sought to score points with the perhaps 10 percent of Arizonans who say they are undecided.

Sinema accused McSally of being an "apologist'' for anything that the GOP – and Donald Trump in particular – want. And McSally was defensive about questions about her views on President Trump and her open support of him this year, versus her refusal to endorse him two years ago.

"Nothing's changed,'' she said.

McSally, first elected to represent CD2 in Southern Arizona in 2014, said she was focused on representing her district.

"But he's in office,'' she said. And that, McSally said, means she needs to work with him, as she said she did to preserve the A-10 attack aircraft that the Obama administration had tried to scrap.

She was a little less straightforward when asked if she was proud of Trump.

"I am proud to be working with him to provide more opportunities and to make sure we keep our country safe,'' McSally said.

And she made it clear that she backs much of what the president has done.

"He's a disrupter,'' McSally said of Trump. "He went to D.C. to shake things up and he's doing that.''

It is that attitude, she said, that has led to him make major strides like trying to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and updating old trade policies.

But Sinema said the flip side has been a trade war.

"That is devastating for Arizona's businesses and for our agricultural community,'' she said.

And the effects, Sinema said, trickle down to everyone else. She cited the increase on tariffs on aluminum, something that will make cans more expensive.

"That's something we all can agree on: Beer should not be more expensive,'' she said.

McSally defended her votes to scrap the Affordable Care Act even as she conceded the law she voted to repeal has made insurance available to some who did not have it before.

"We cannot go back to where we were before,'' she said. But McSally said the program, known as Obamacare, just does not work as constructed and is financially unaffordable.

That, however, still leaves the hot-button question of what would happen to those now enrolled.

While the program has proven controversial, there is widespread support for a key provision: a requirement for insurance companies to provide coverage irrespective of whether people have preexisting medical conditions. Sinema charged that the GOP efforts to repeal the law would have once again left those people without insurance.

McSally said that while she wanted to scrap the Affordable Care Act she supports such a requirement. The problem, she said, is that "Obamacare was the wrong approach.''

Sinema, however, said the alternatives offered by McSally and Republicans would return the country "to the time when people couldn't afford health insurance.''

"The solutions Martha has voted for actually make the system worse and hurt Arizonans,'' Sinema said.

The issue of abortion underlined one of the stark differences between the candidates.

Sinema said that issue should be strictly between a woman and her doctor. McSally defined herself as "pro-life.''

But McSally sidestepped the question of whether she wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the right of women to terminate a pregnancy.

"I would support appointing justices that are looking independently at the Constitution and the laws that we make,'' McSally said.

McSally also gave a full-throated endorsement to the decision of President Trump to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the Senate vote to confirm him.

"He is highly qualified and he has shown I think what we need to be looking at in judges and justices, which is that they're not going to be activist but they're actually going to interpret the Constitution and the laws that we make in Congress,'' she said.

Sinema was less direct in her answer, calling the confirmation hearings "a circus'' in which both political parties participated. And she questioned both his demeanor and whether he lied during the hearings, ultimately saying she would have voted against confirmation.

McSally, whose congressional district includes a large stretch of the international border, said Sinema, whose district covers parts of Phoenix and Tempe, does not understand the issue of security. McSally said this is not just about illegal immigration but also drug and human smuggling.

Sinema said she did support a $1.5 billion border security appropriation which included money for Trump's border wall

"I'm fine with a physical barrier being part of a total solution,” she said. But Sinema said it also requires more than "an 18th century solution to a 21st century problem."

The questions McSally raised about Sinema's fitness were not limited to her anti-war activities.

She pointed out that Sinema had accepted $53,000 in donations from the owners of Backpage.com, a now-defunct web site that prosecutors say was a front for prostitution.

Sinema donated the money to charity.