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Key takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate

Senate hopefuls Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February Former NY Times book critic: I take back my positive review of Jeff Flake's book MORE (R) faced off in a heated debate Monday evening in Arizona as they sought to woo the state’s voters in a quest to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley defends acting AG against calls for recusal Former NY Times book critic: I take back my positive review of Jeff Flake's book Majority say Trump should face primary challenge, poll finds MORE.

During one hour of debate, the candidates, who are both currently members of the House of Representatives, exchanged barbs over trade, health care, border security — and, yes, even “pink tutus.” 

The race is shaping up to be one of the most contested of the 2018 midterm elections. Here are the key takeaways from Monday’s debate, which is the only one between Sinema and McSally before voters head to the polls next month.

Sinema touts ‘bipartisanship’

Sinema’s message to Arizonans was clear: A vote for me is a vote for bipartisanship in the Senate.

Sinema, who has recently come under scrutiny for her progressive past, made herself out to be a Democrat willing to work with Republicans and President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California MORE on issues of mutual concern.

For instance, Sinema signaled she would support a “total solution” on border security that includes funding for the president’s proposed wall at the southern border but that also provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children, commonly known as Dreamers.

Sinema also portrayed herself as fearless in calling out the president in areas of disagreement, such as on tariffs that she said have devastated Arizona’s businesses and agricultural community. 

“We should just call the balls and the strikes,” Sinema said. “When the president is doing something right, support him. When he’s doing something wrong, oppose it.”

McSally ties herself to Trump

Meanwhile, McSally aggressively advocated for Trump’s actions on jobs and the economy, portraying him as a “disrupter” who has been unafraid to shake things up in Washington and confront tough issues like trade and the North Korean nuclear threat.

“I am proud that he has gone to the White House and is leading our country in the right direction,” said McSally, who was once tepid in her support of Trump during the 2016 presidential race.

In her closing remarks, McSally touted Trump’s efforts to deliver tax cuts and rebuild the U.S. military as part of her effort to convince Arizona voters that Republicans are leading the country in a direction that directly benefits the state.

“The economy is on fire right now and we are rebuilding our military,” McSally said. “Thanks to President Trump, Gov. [Doug] Ducey and the Republican House and Senate, there’s more opportunity for everyone.”

Beer and tutus become sticking points 

The more memorable moments of the debate came in exchanges about Trump’s tariffs and Sinema’s past progressive activism.

At the start of the debate, Sinema claimed that Trump’s tariffs on aluminum imports from the European Union, Mexico and Canada would cause breweries in the state to pay more for cans, driving up the cost of beer. 

“That’s something I think we should all be able to agree on: that beer shouldn’t cost more,” Sinema quipped. 

The line played into the Democrat’s effort to cast herself as someone willing to stand up to Trump over moves that hurt Arizonans, in contrast to McSally, who she accused of merely toeing the Republican Party line. 

Later in the debate, McSally generated her own high-octane moment as she dug into Sinema for her opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s. 

“While we were in harm's way, she was protesting our troops in a pink tutu,” McSally said, echoing an ad her campaign is running against Sinema.

“I want to ask right now whether you’re going to apologize to the veterans and me for saying it’s OK to commit treason,” McSally added, referencing a CNN report that Sinema in 2003 said she would be “fine” with Americans joining the Taliban.

McSally leveraged her closing remarks to hammer home the image of Sinema as an anti-war activist. 

“You have a choice: Someone who wore the uniform or someone who protested our troops,” McSally said. “Someone who worked with Sen. [John] McCain to save the A-10 [military aircraft] or someone who advocated to shut down [Luke Air Force Base].”

McSally brings heat to the fight

McSally, an Air Force veteran and self-professed “fighter,” wasn’t afraid to show emotion and outrage during the 60-minute debate.

She repeatedly blasted Sinema for peddling “lies” about her voting record and positions on issues like health care and Social Security.

“ ‘Republicans are throwing granny over the cliff,’ ” McSally said, mocking a 2012 Democratic talking point. “The voters are not going to believe this.”

And, in an apparent jab at the moderators, McSally later suggested there had not been enough time spent on veterans’ issues during the debate.

“We have to talk about the military. We have to talk about our veterans,” McSally exclaimed during the final question period, which was focused on climate change. “We haven’t had any opportunity.”

Sinema stays cool in criticizing her opponent's tactics

Sinema sought to offset McSally’s passion with a calm demeanor, and at no point during the debate did she appear to get riled.

In response to one of McSally’s more noteworthy attacks over her ties to anti-war protests, Sinema accused her opponent of “engaging in ridiculous attacks and smearing my campaign.”

“Martha has chosen to run a campaign like the one you’re seeing right now,” Sinema said.

“The truth is I have always fought for Arizona,” she continued. “Arizonans know me and they know my record.”