Rep. Debbie Lesko and challenger Michael Muscato

Rep. Debbie Lesko and challenger Michael Muscato—both Peoria residents—had sharp exchanges during an Oct. 5 debate on Congressional District 8 issues.

West Valley voters will decide the fates of many of the faces seen on those ubiquitous posters at intersections.

In one race with national implications, a pair of Peorians face off: Michael Muscato takes on Rep. Debbie Lesko, challenging for her U.S. House of Representatives seat representing the 8th Congressional District.

The district stretches from New River to Goodyear, including parts of Litchfield Park, Waddell, Peoria, Glendale and Luke Air Force Base.

In an Arizona PBS Channel 8 debate Oct. 5, Muscato and Lesko spent an hour sharply discoursing on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, health care and immigration.

Lesko, a Republican, is the heavy favorite. She was elected in 2018, winning 55% of the votes against Hiral Tipirneni.

Muscato, a newcomer to politics, bested Bob Musselwhite, Bob Olsen and Kyle Martin in the Democrat primary.

Muscato is a former professional baseball player who said his gym in Glendale was forced to close for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He was the aggressor in the debate, insisting several times that Lesko has not done enough to help small businesses.

“Her enablement is why 200,000 Americans are dead … why tens of thousands of small businesses have been destroyed,” Muscato charged.

Lesko was dismissive of the harsh words from Muscato, who painted her as a disciple of President Donald Trump. Indeed, Lesko boasted, “I’ve flown on Air Force One three times.”

Lesko said Trump responded to COVID-19 appropriately, starting with a travel ban early in the crisis. “I think the president has done a good job,” she said. “Now he is doing Operation Warps Speed—I think we’ll get a vaccine maybe by the end of the month.”

And, she added, “I’ve voted for three coronavirus aid bills. … In the realm of things, we’ve done a good job.”

Asked about her personal philosophy on wearing masks, Lesko again alluded to Trump: “I try to take as much precaution as possible. I’ve gone to the White House several times—they always test you before you see the president,” she said.

Muscato said he has seen Lesko at Trump rallies, “fist-pumping like a fan I would see at a concert”—rather than focusing on helping local businesses, as Muscato pledged to do if elected.

“This county is hurting,” Muscato said. “And the reason it’s hurting is leadership has done nothing but bend the knee to the president without getting the job done.”

Lesko countered that Trump is a business leader. “Quite frankly, he’s done a fantastic job on the economy,” she said.

And, Lesko said, she voted for a pandemic-related, loan-forgiveness program: “The Paycheck Protection Program helped thousands of businesses in Arizona.”

When she questioned why Muscato didn’t receive the funding, he responded, “I’m not Oliver Twist, and I’m not going to reach out and say, ‘Please sir, can I have some more?’”

A moderator asked Lesko about wording on her website, which quotes advice that people who are not sick should not wear masks.

“My website says what?” Lesko responded. “I always wear masks, even before there was a mandate. … If my website says that, I’m going to talk to my staff immediately.”