A highly anticipated rematch between Democratic Congressman Ron Barber and his Republican rival, Martha McSally, didn’t disappoint on Tuesday night.
The testy hourlong debate at the University of Arizona saw the two political antagonists fight over the accuracy of ads that have flooded the market, paid for by both the campaigns and their political allies.
McSally and Barber hammered each other over what they called false and misleading ads. Neither was willing to admit their own ads might be flawed.
One estimate suggests $7.6 million will have been spent on ads in Congressional District 2 by the beginning of November.
Sparring between the two politicians was particularly contentious over an ad put out by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords‘ political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
McSally said the recent television spot was deeply offensive to her personally and was taken off the airwaves because it simply wasn’t true.
The Republican candidate then asked Barber directly to formally denounce the ads backed by his former boss.
“We repeatedly asked you to stand up against them,” McSally said. “You have an opportunity tonight to denounce that ad and apologize. Do you believe that ad was wrong, Ron?”
Barber answered her challenge by saying that the ad was not issued by his campaign, and he wasn’t going to take time to talk about another group’s ad.
Another spot discussed, one from McSally’s campaign, hammers Barber for missing an important hearing about the Islamic State militant group.
The Tucson Democrat tried to hand McSally an attendance sheet from the meeting, showing he actually was in the room during the hearing last month.
“I have a document I’d like to share with my opponent before we leave tonight,” Barber said seconds before the debate ended.
The GOP nominee stood by her ad claim, noting Barber was not present when it was his turn to ask questions during the congressional hearing.
When asked about the hearing before the debate, Barber said he was in attendance for more than an hour before departing for a scheduled meeting with the Tucson-based Southern Arizona Defense Alliance.
McSally also complained about a number of ads critical of her offering support for fellow Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, suggesting she favors tax cuts to billionaires that would punish the middle class with tax hikes.
McSally argued she was put in an impossible position, forced to choose between three tax plans during an interview in 2012.
The retired Air Force colonel said repeatedly that she does not support the Ryan budget, but those statements have been ignored by Democratic foes who want to continue to use the claim in attack ads.
Barber said McSally was trying to pretend the statements she made never happened.
“Her true positions are those positions, not what she made tonight,” Barber said.
When asked about plans by President Obama to attack Islamic State fighters, the two candidates offered differing opinions.
McSally lashed out against what she called a failed foreign policy of the Obama administration, saying inaction allowed the Islamic State to grow, adding that the president was “late to the game.” She labeled the airstrikes as inadequate.
Barber said he supports the airstrikes, but added he is skeptical he could be convinced that the U.S. should send ground troops into the region.
Barber and McSally are expected to debate again next week in Sierra Vista.