- The Washington Times
Monday, September 19, 2022

Sen. Mark Kelly sits in the seat once held by Sen. John McCain, but he’s anything but the “straight talk express” by which his predecessor was known.

On scorching issues such as abortion and seemingly arcane questions over presidential nominees to the Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Kelly has been tough to pin down on where he stands even while running for reelection, critics say.

“He is so cautious,” said Barrett Mason, an Arizona-based Republican consultant. “Mark Kelly won’t say where he is on anything [controversial] at any time. You just never know where he is going to be.”

The strategy has worked so far.

Mr. Kelly holds a lead in the polls over Republican nominee Blake Masters. Republicans have been counting on winning the seat in November as part of an effort to gain control of the upper chamber of Congress.

The Democrat has blanketed the airwaves with campaign ads playing up his time with NASA and in the Navy where he, like McCain before him, was a pilot.

He says he is an independent voice, though he has mostly been a reliable backer of President Biden’s agenda, even while backing away from partisan dogfights and policy specifics.

For 10 months, Mr. Kelly has been evaluating whether to back Gigi Sohn, a Biden nominee to the FCC and liberal favorite who faces stiff opposition from Republicans.

On abortion, Mr. Kelly worked hard to avoid being pinned down, particularly on late-term abortions.

“Our government needs to respect a woman’s freedom, and there are restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy, and there should be, as allowed under Roe. v. Wade,” he told KTAR News. “We just need to make sure women can get the health care they need if they’re facing serious circumstances.”

Mr. Kelly, 58, even danced around questions of whether he would campaign alongside Mr. Biden, with whom he has voted 94% of the time.

“I would certainly consider it,” he said in a television interview on “Arizona’s Family,” a news show in Phoenix. 

“I could be in Washington voting on important legislation,” he said. “It would depend on what the event was, where it was — and what is the goal? But if the president wanted to come out here and see Arizona, you know, I would welcome him to do that.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, said Mr. Kelly’s response smacked of “parody.”

“It was almost like watching a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit or something like that,” Mr. Biggs said on Newsmax. “I think he knows Biden is on the ballot this November … and in Arizona, Biden is incredibly unpopular.” 

Mr. Biden is indeed underwater in the state, according to an Emerson College poll released this month. It found that 53% of voters disapproved of the job he is doing as president, compared with 40% who approved.

Mr. Kelly is up in the polls. The Real Clear Politics average of recent surveys gives him a 4-percentage-point lead over Mr. Masters.

Some analysts say it’s because of Mr. Kelly’s fundraising prowess and Mr. Masters’ lack thereof.

The Democrat had raised $54 million, spent $30 million and had almost $25 million in the bank through mid-July. Mr. Masters had raised less than $5 million, spent $3.4 million and had $1.5 million in the bank.

State Republicans say Mr. Kelly remains vulnerable and are urging national party figures to invest in the race.

Mr. Masters accused Mr. Kelly of trying to hide his policy positions from voters, particularly on abortion. He said Mr. Kelly supports abortion on demand, including late-term abortions.

“What does Mark Kelly define as ‘late’?” the Masters campaign said in an email blast this week. “The day before the mother gives birth? Arizona voters deserve to know.”

Mr. Masters, though, has deleted or toned down pro-life language from his website, NBC News reported last month.

The Kelly campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Mr. Masters, who had the backing of former President Donald Trump as he emerged from a crowded primary field, has faced incoming fire for his prolific online presence and blunt political views.

In one interview, he blamed gun violence on gangs and “Black people, frankly.” He also has accused Democrats of inviting in illegal immigrants to “change the demographics of our country.”

Liberal press outlets have dubbed Mr. Masters the next big thing in far-right politics.

Arizona isn’t inherently opposed to outsized personalities. Barry Goldwater, a pioneer of the modern conservative movement, spent 30 years representing the state in the U.S. Senate, and McCain won four Senate elections.

McCain was a war hero. Mr. Masters, 36, is a venture capitalist.

It’s a sharp distinction with Mr. Kelly, who has spent 54 days in space as a NASA astronaut.

“There is no bigger contrast probably in America on personality or style between two candidates,” Mr. Mason said. “Mark is careful.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.