Ms. McSally, a Republican congresswoman, is employing an unusual tactic in the final stages of one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, doubling down on a jarring claim she made in a debate this week: that Ms. Sinemas response years ago to a radio hosts flip comment about joining the Taliban constituted a crime against the state.
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Until two weeks ago, Ms. McSally seemed to be losing ground in her battle with Ms. Sinema, a Democratic House member from Phoenix, for the seat being vacated by the retiring Republican, Jeff Flake.
Video: Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema talks about healthcare at campaign stop
As Ms. McSally spent the summer duking it out in a nasty primary battle with Joe Arpaio, the firebrand former sheriff, and Kelli Ward, an ultraconservative osteopath, Ms. Sinema, with no real primary challenger, ran a series of gauzy ads focused on her impoverished childhood and congressional record of bipartisanship.
Trump claimed Democrats want to impose socialism on our country. Turn us into another Venezuela, take away your health care, destroy your Second Amendment – and Democrats want to throw your borders wide open to deadly drugs and ruthless gangs.
Since then, Ms. McSally has largely stayed in primary mode, sticking like taffy to President Trump — who won the state by a far smaller margin than Mitt Romney did in 2012 — and tossing barbs at Ms. Sinema, who has responded largely with the sunny disposition of a hotel clerk facing down a guest disputing a charge.
As Arizona voters begin early balloting, Ms. McSally, 52, is hauling in reinforcements: former President George W. Bush is hosting a fund-raiser for her on Friday in Scottsdale, and Mr. Trump plans to be in Mesa rallying Republican voters in the evening.
AZ-Sen: McSally and Sinema debate the border wall, Social Security, underage prostitution
Polls that once showed Ms. Sinema with an advantage have tightened or even given a slight edge to Ms. McSally in recent days. A live poll by The New York Times Upshot department was showing a close race Friday night.
“This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense,” Mr. Trump said, referring to a caravan of migrants from Honduras on their way to the American border. “As you know, Im willing to send the military to protect our southern border if necessary.” He also said at one point that “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.”
Until last week, I definitely would have said Sinema was in the lead, said Paul Bentz, a Phoenix political adviser and pollster. Now things are tightening up.
The race — which will deliver Arizonas first female senator — is among the most expensive Senate contests in the country, with constant ads interrupting football games and radio sales pitches for scorpion removal services.
Video: Arizona Senate Candidate Martha McSally Accuses Her Democratic Opponent Of Treason
In recent days, Ms. McSally appears to have gained some footing by delving into Ms. Sinemas past. Ms. McSallys supporters surfaced an old photo of Ms. Sinema protesting the war in Iraq as a law student in 2002, and a video of her mocking her home state for being a meth lab of democracy while serving in the state legislature. They also unearthed a 2003 radio interview of Ms. Sinema expressing indifference — I dont care, she said — to a radio hosts provocation about hypothetically joining the Taliban.
Ms. McSally, a former United States Air Force fighter pilot, seized upon the Taliban comment and charged in their debate this week that Ms. Sinemas stance amounted to treason, a broadside so sharp it became national news.
Security began letting people into the venue about an hour ago. Some attendees were arguing with security guards who ordered them to throw away their water. Trump supporters sang the national anthem as they passed by one of a handful of protesters outside the hangar where Trump is scheduled to speak later this evening.
This is not just a choice between a protester and a patriot, Ms. McSally said on Thursday at a meeting of the Republican Women of Prescott, noting her own multiple deployments with her badass plane. Ms. Sinema is doing her classic liberal anti-military stuff, she added.
Video: President Trump arrives at Luke Air Force Base for tour and round table discussion
Recalling her fallen colleagues in Afghanistan, Ms. McSally choked up. Its extremely personal, she said.
Mesa developing smart city strategic plan, seeks residents input
Martha has chosen a very low road, Ms. Sinema said at an event in Scottsdale this week with supporters. That is her choice. She insists she has a base across party lines: People in Arizona know I share their values.
“We have to keep the promises weve made to our seniors and protect the retirement benefits theyve earned,” McSally wrote. “At the same time, we have to take measures to strengthen and sustain it for future generations because it is currently unsustainable. For younger workers, we need to consider approaches such as gradually increasing the retirement age and allowing them to invest a portion of their Social Security payments in ways that will allow them to maximize their returns.”
President Trump in Arizona: Heres everything you need to know
This state seems to tolerate shape shifting. Senator John McCain, who died this year, moved to the right of his own long-held positions on issues like immigration in a tough primary one year, then voted with Democrats to preserve the health care law in another. (Mr. Flake declined to back down on his criticism of Mr. Trump and found himself in an unviable position.)
Parking lots at capacity three hours ahead of Trump rally at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport
Ms. Sinema and Ms. McSally, who both represent swing districts, have done their own transforming. Ms. Sinema went from a fairly left-leaning partisan member of the state legislature to one of the most centrist Democrats in the House.
Ms. McSally, whose arms-length approach to Mr. Trump extended to not revealing if she voted for him, was also viewed as a moderate reflecting the complexion of her mixed district. But she has since morphed into a strong Trump supporter, though she said this week that she did not agree with Mr. Trumps characterization of an adult film star as horseface.
Mesas mayor called the president an idiot last year. Now Trumps coming to town
Arizona, for decades a Republican stronghold, has trended toward purple slowly and steadily over the past decade, like a pair of white socks washed repeatedly in a color load.
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Hispanics now make up 31 percent of the states population, and independent, issue-driven voters, many who have migrated from other states in recent years, have fueled the areas growth.
Yet Democrats have largely failed to capitalize on the shifting demography. The party has not won a Senate seat since Dennis DeConcinis last race in 1988 nor a statewide race of any kind since 2008, and actually lost ground in 2010.
Ms. Sinema, who was elected to the House in 2012, was widely viewed by both parties as the one best positioned to advance.
In Congress, she formed alliances with some of the most conservative Republicans — including Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina — and she has earned popularity with the states Republicans for her consistently moderate positions and constant outreach. She has voted with her Republican colleagues about 60 percent of the time.
She has declined to throw support behind liberal positions like the elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in contrast to the Democratic candidate for governor, David Garcia, an Arizona State professor who has fallen behind Gov. Doug Ducey. Her ads dont even mention that she is a Democrat — because she is not proud of parties, she explained to an Arizona radio interviewer, adding, I am a proud Arizonan.
LIVE STREAM: President Donald Trump holds rally in Mesa,…
She has built an impressive coalition of Republicans in the state, causing Ms. McSally to note recently: Weve got some moderate Republicans who seemed to have drank Kyrsten Sinemas Kool-Aid in the polling and we need to bring them back home.
Mesa officers preparing ahead of President Donald Trumps rally on Friday
Ms. McSallys ads and those of her supporters have been relentlessly negative and darkly accusative, which is a great primary play, but may hurt her with general election voters. There are not enough voters for her to mobilize with that to win, said Kim Fridkin, a political-science professor at Arizona State University.
But Ms. Sinema faces the traditional obstacles for Democrats in this state. Republicans continue to hold a registration and participation advantage even though independents remain a sizable portion of the electorate, and Ms. Sinema needs to woo some of them to win.
While Ms. McSally would likely not find traction with attacks on Ms. Sinema on issues like health care — the health care law has a great deal of support in the state, especially among older voters — Republicans have generally found national security a more effective line of attack. Indeed, like many Republicans this year, Ms. McSally has worked hard to square her position in favor of insurance companies covering pre-existing conditions with her vote for a bill that would have ended the practice.
The confirmation hearings for Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh have energized Republicans everywhere; his photo was front and center at the Republican Women of Prescotts meeting here.
Ms. Sinemas best hope at breaking the Democrats long losing streak in Arizona is to run up the numbers in Democratic pockets, minimize her losses in rural areas and win large swaths of Maricopa County, encompassing Phoenix, with the help of some of its Republicans.
The biggest question with three weeks left in the election, said Mr. Bentz, the pollster, is who can close out their campaign with an effective appeal to independent and unaffiliated voters and Republican women to win.