Arizona Senate Debate: Voter Denial Blake Masters Says No Evidence of Voting Fraud

Blake Masters, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona who has baselessly denied the results of the 2020 election, on Thursday called Joe Biden the “legitimate president” and said he had seen no evidence that the vote count was rigged. although he continued to spread baseless allegations of government interference in the result.

The comments by Masters in a debate with Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), whom he trails in the polls, marked a marked shift from a campaign ad last year in which the Republican said, “I think Trump won in 2020.” But while Masters tried to downplay that position, he baselessly claimed the federal government “forced” big tech companies to censor information that would have propelled Donald Trump to victory.

Without those actions, Masters said, “I suspect President Trump would be in the White House today.”

Kelly, meanwhile, worked to distance himself from President Biden, saying at one point he told Biden he was “wrong” when the president “decided he was going to do something stupid” on border policy with Mexico. And he attacked Masters over abortion and Social Security, hammering him over past comments he had made.

“I think we all know guys like that. You know, guys who think they know better than everyone else about everything. You know, you think you know better than women and doctors about abortion. You even think you know better than seniors about Social Security,” Kelly said.

Clashing at the first and perhaps only debate in a battleground Senate race that will help determine control of the chamber next year, Masters and Kelly often pitched their positions toward moderate voters. Masters, a first-time candidate and venture capitalist, has consistently trailed Kelly, a former astronaut, in polls and fundraising, and has shown particular weakness with political independents.

While Kelly’s lead and massive war chest have some Republicans pinning their Senate hopes on other states, the Arizona race remains competitive and expensive. Democrats have targeted Masters on the air for positions he took during the GOP primary and has since backed away from — a dynamic that was on display Thursday night when the moderator pressed Masters on the 2020 election and abortion policy.

Masters advanced in a crowded GOP primary after Trump endorsed him, and he embraced Trump’s false claims about the election early.

Asked during the debate Thursday whether Biden was legitimately elected, Masters said Biden is “absolutely the president. … He’s duly sworn and certified. He’s the legitimate president. He’s in the White House.”

Then Masters claimed that the FBI “coerced” and “pressured” major tech companies to “censor true information” about alleged wrongdoing by Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said the company limited sharing of an article about Hunter Biden after the FBI told his company it should be on “high alert” for activity resembling “Russian propaganda” in the 2016 election. But Zuckerberg also said the agency did not specifically alert Facebook to that story.

“But not vote count, not election results?” asked moderator, Arizona PBS host Ted Simons.

“Yeah, I haven’t seen evidence of that,” Masters said.

When pressed on 2020, Masters has often focused his criticism on the suppression of information by “Big Tech” rather than the voting system itself.

The comments came as Masters prepares to rally with Trump in Arizona this weekend, along with other GOP candidates who have more wholeheartedly embraced the former president’s false claims about a vote tainted by fraud, such as gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.

“The only reason we’re having this conversation is because my opponent Blake Masters broadcast a video interrogation of who won the presidential election here in the state of Arizona,” Kelly said, warning of a situation where “the wheels come off our democracy .”

Trump is also set to campaign this weekend with Nevada GOP gubernatorial nominee Joe Lombardo, who drew a sharper contrast with Trump at a debate last weekend. Lombardo reiterated his position that the election was not stolen and admitted that Trump’s insistence otherwise “bothers” him.

Masters on Thursday strongly defended his stance on abortion, an issue that has prompted him and other Republican candidates to withdraw amid popular opposition to tough new bans. He said he supports a ban on the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, at both the state and federal levels, and also supported targeted exemptions to save the mother’s life.

In Arizona, a near-total abortion ban recently went into effect, overriding a more recent 15-week ban passed by the state legislature.

Kelly repeatedly referred to Masters’ comments about abortion during the Republican primary. Asked at one point last year if he would support a federal ban similar to Arizona’s near-total ban, Masters said yes.

Pressed on his position on late-term abortions, Kelly did not support any particular limit, but said he supports “the limitations and the protections that were allowed” under Roe v. Wade. The landmark Supreme Court case placed no national restrictions on abortion, but guaranteed access to abortions until the time a fetus can survive outside the womb.

The first-term senator made a point throughout the debate to criticize national Democrats, saying he told Biden “he was wrong” on oil and gas policy. He also repeatedly brought up Masters’ comments during a primary debate that “maybe we should privatize Social Security” — a controversial proposal, especially in a state with a large population of retirees.

Masters backtracked on the comments over the summer. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from using the question in a flurry of ads.

“Let’s be clear,” Masters replied, “the biggest threat to seniors’ retirement today is the massive crushing inflation that Joe Biden and Mark Kelly caused.” Republicans have hammered Democrats over federal relief packages that most experts say contributed to rising prices; Democrats say the aid was badly needed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Masters tried to focus on the Biden administration, saying Kelly was a reliable voice for Biden’s agenda. He contrasted Kelly with Arizona’s other senator, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, whose refusal to support certain Democratic priorities has frustrated her party and won praise from Republicans.

Masters also attacked Kelly on border politics, a particularly prominent issue in Arizona. He called for building a border wall and doubling the size of the Border Patrol agency, criticizing Kelly for approving federal legislation that funded new IRS personnel but not Border Patrol agents.

When discussing the border, Kelly said that “Democrats don’t understand the problem” while Republicans want to “complain” about it and politicize it.

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