The U.S. Senate debate between Senator Martha McSally and Democrat Mark Kelly, co-hosted by Arizona PBS, put a sharper focus on the differences between the candidates in this high-profile race. The state – and the nation – were watching, but what exactly did they see? We asked local pollster and political analyst Mike O’Neil.
According to O’Neil, “It was evident from the behavior of both candidates that Mark Kelly is ahead in this race, and as consequence of that, Martha McSally was the aggressor throughout the debate.”
McSally repeatedly referred to her opponent as “counterfeit Kelly.” “I thought that came across very poorly,” O’Neil said. “I didn’t think it was very effective at all, and it made it very difficult for her to appear dignified and senatorial when she engaged in that sort of ‘Trump-ian’ level of name calling.”
McSally is trailing quite a bit behind in just about every survey. O’Neil believes her debate performance won’t move that needle. “Particularly in light of what’s going on nationally – she has tied herself to Donald Trump. And over the last several days that Trump campaign has been imploding, so she’s tied herself to a sinking ship.”
In contrast, give his lead in the polls, Kelly needed stability, O’Neil said.
Where do the candidates go after this debate?
“Martha McSally is running out of options,” O’Neil said. “I’m looking at a national level at a Trump campaign that appears to be imploding, that’s not good news for her either. The Republican Campaign Committee is making decisions about where those last dollars are going…they may give up on Arizona. They’ll never say this, but they may regard it as a poor financial investment relative to those other options.”
So, who won last night?
“It was Mark Kelly, no question,” O’Neil said. “He started out ahead, and he’s sufficiently far ahead that unless something dramatic happens now or before the end of the campaign, this election is his to lose.”