In their lone debate, rivals Martha McSally and Matt Heinz vowed to fight to bring new missions to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca, to fix the Affordable Care Act and to secure the border.

But the two often split on their solutions to the problems in Wednesday night’s Congressional District 2 debate in Sierra Vista.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. McSally, a Republican, told the audience it is obvious the Affordable Care Act has failed in Arizona, as residents in rural counties have few choices in terms of the health care marketplace.

“It doesn’t take a doctor to diagnose that Obamacare is not working,” she said, in a pointed reference to Democrat Heinz, who is an emergency-room physician as well as a former state representative.

McSally conceded the system in place before Obamacare was flawed, but said the decision to replace it with a radically different, mandatory system was not the answer.

The candidates argued about who is to blame for the problems with the Affordable Care Act.

McSally said it was fault of the Obama administration, while Heinz said that “big pharma” and health care insurance providers wrote the legislation.

Heinz said the ACA has done a lot of good across the country, which he’s seen first-hand as a physician, but admitted some changes are needed.

McSally said the entire system needs to be replaced.

In terms of border security, McSally called for “a better strategy” when it comes to national security.

She said the federal government has done a poor job of tracking immigrants who have overstayed their visas, and has also placed Border Patrol agents too far away from the physical border. But she praised a decision to replace seven miles of physical border wall in Southern Arizona.

Heinz said the underlying issues can’t be ignored while the U.S. focuses on physical solutions like walls, and that a comprehensive solution is needed to address how to handle the millions of undocumented people living in the United States.

“We can’t just fix the heart and ignore the lungs and the kidneys,” he said.

Asked about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, McSally railed against “unelected bureaucrats” who could force closure of the Apache Generating Station, a coal-fired plant in Cochise County.

“Thankfully, the courts have stopped it,” she said; the plan is on hold while states including Arizona challenge it.

She said she voted with Congress to send a disapproval resolution to President Obama about the energy plan, but he vetoed it.

Heinz countered that McSally was part of what he called the least productive congressional session in the nation’s history, forcing federal agencies to act when Congress should.

Environmental policy should be balanced, he said, warning that a lack of environmental monitoring led to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan.

The congressional district, which covers a portion of Pima County and most of Cochise County, is considered very competitive. McSally defeated then-Congressman Ron Barber in 2014 by a 161-vote margin.

In August, the Secretary of State’s Office reported that Republicans and Democrats each have about 132,000 voters registered, the Republican Party had a razor-thin lead with just 13 more registered voters than the Democratic Party had.

Independents are coveted in the district, making up nearly one-third of its total registered voters.

The debate in Sierra Vista is the only planned public meeting between the two candidates. Both campaigns have indicated they would be open to another debate in the Tucson area but none is planned.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.