Mark Kelly Martha McSally

Democrat Mark Kelly and Republican Sen. Martha McSally are separated by plexiglass as they participate in a debate at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, two military veterans battling for a congressional seat in Arizona that is drawing the attention of the nation, recently debated over the  COVID-19 response, jobs and immigration—and President Trump’s attacks on Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Kelly and McSally wielded the usual disdain of political opponents, accusing one another of misleading Arizonans while outlining their own familiar campaign stances in a debate that offered few surprises.

McSally called Obamacare “a government takeover of health care,” praised the government response to the coronavirus and businesses suffering financial losses in the pandemic, and said corporate interests that Kelly scorns actually bolster his campaign.

Kelly, a Navy veteran, called for expanding public health, said the naming of a Supreme Court justice should wait until a new president takes office, and reaffirmed his opposition to a border wall.

McSally, an Air Force veteran, is defending the seat she was appointed to two years ago, filling the vacancy left by the late Sen. McCain.

McCain may have been the only common ground between the two opponents. Kelly decried reports that Trump had humiliated the service of veterans and, even after McCain’s death, made fun of a Republican icon.

McSally agreed. “It pisses me off when he does that,” she said of Trump, adding she tells him to stop doing so. Trump has endorsed McSally.

Kelly and McSally offered dueling views of who has been most in fealty of China instead of holding off the superpower competitor, charged one another with being in thrall to corporate interests, and repeatedly claimed they are the senator most likely to fight for Arizonans.

Kelly, a former astronaut and gun reform activist, has consistently led McSally in the polls in a race that could decide the future of the Supreme Court and has drawn national attention.

Throughout the debate, McSally consistently called Kelly “Counterfeit Kelly” and drew comparisons between him and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“He led over the last decade one of the most radical political organizations in modern history,” she said. “Raising over $57 million in order to help elect some of the most extreme left-wing politicians in power right now.”

Kelly largely used the debate to paint himself as a candidate for all Arizonans, stressing that he represents independence and nonpartisanship.

“Partisan politics has made this crisis worse, and partisan politics and partisan politicians are not going to get us out of it,” he said. “We need independent leadership focused on solving the problems we face.”

The latest polls have Kelly leading McSally by double digits, reflecting the state’s shift from a red state to a battleground. The Senate race has garnered national attention, with the result having heavy implications for Arizona’s political future.

McSally has been a vocal supporter of the Trump administration and has stated that the Senate should vote on Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.

Both contenders are following party lines, with most Republicans seeking to confirm a justice for the nation’s highest court while Democrats want to wait, hoping that former Vice President Joe Biden will become president. Kelly said in an interview with KTAR that the winner of November’s presidential election should choose the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.

During the debate, McSally stated that she was following the Constitution in her decision to support moving forward with the Supreme Court nomination process.

“Let’s be clear, the Constitution says that the president gets to nominate and the Senate gets to confirm,” she said.

The topic of China was brought up several times throughout the debate, with McSally repeatedly trying to tie Kelly to the country and its administration.

“Your business relationships put you in a place where you are weak on China.”

Kelly responded by saying that he “recognized China as an adversary” for his entire life and that McSally has been falsely attacking him.

“Sen. McSally just likes to lob false political attacks and question her opponents’ patriotism, we’ve seen it before,” he said.

The Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was hotly debated. Kelly said that he believed the administration and McSally did not do a good job responding to the pandemic, citing the country’s coronavirus deaths as an example.

McSally praised the administration’s China travel ban, while placing the blame for the pandemic on China and the nation’s response.

“This virus came from China, they silenced doctors, they destroyed samples, they blamed it on the U.S. Army, and we need to hold China accountable,” she said.

Early voting for this race and others in Arizona began Oct. 7, lasting until Oct. 30. The deadline for voter registration is Oct. 23, per a recent order by a federal judge.