The second of three debates between two candidates vying to replace retiring Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R) took place Monday night less than a week after "early voting" opened for the state's voters.
Once again, the discussion largely focused on domestic issues, such as immigration and border enforcement, and the challenge of managing health care costs. It was clear that the candidates' positions were formed as the result of vastly different life experiences.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) effectively challenged Representative Jeff Flake (R) on his votes on military aid, and his positions on immigration reform and border enforcement, casting aside his perspectives as politicized talking points and his own as the product of decades of on-the-ground experience.
However, Flake continued to cite his record of bipartisanship, and his willingness to take a firm stance on issues like earmark reform as strong pillars of his candidacy
In a nod to the recent round of personal ads that have aired, the issue of "temperament" came up throughout the debate.
On health care, the two reiterated their divergent positions. Flake favors repealing the "Affordable Care Act," and replacing it with legislation that more effectively tackles the issue of rising premiums. Meanwhile, Carmona, leaning heavily on his experience in the health care sector expressed a desire to retain many aspects of the bill, as he spoke favorably of the provisions that allow individuals to remain on their parents' plans until the age of 26. Carmona also spoke on the resolution of the gap in Medicare funding known as the "donut hole," and issues relating to payments to doctors under the program.
Midway through the debate, the moderators referenced two recent ads in which female colleagues of Carmona called into question his temperament. Carmona strenuously denied the allegations, stating that the assertions of one female colleague were old and long discredited, while conceding (with pride), that in pushing back against the politicization of science under the Bush administration, he'd "ruffled a few feathers."
Later, echoing a line of attack from one of his ads, Carmona, a former Green Beret, challenged Rep. Flake on his record on Veterans' aid, alleging that the congressman had missed a substantial number of votes while traveling on official and non-official business.
Flake pushed back vigorously against both points, accusing Carmona of "cherry-picking votes" to make a political point, and called into question Carmona's understanding of Congressional responsibilities. Flake suggested that his conflicting committee assignments, and not travel, were the cause of his missed votes.
Nowhere was Carmona more effective than during his discussion of "border issues." While Flake cited a history of bipartisanship as an asset he would bring to bear on discussions over border enforcement and immigration reform, Carmona pointed out out that his 25 years as a deputy sheriff gave him a valuable perspective on the dynamic nature of the threats faced and the responses required to effectively police Arizona's border with Mexico.
At one point, while responding to a point made by Carmona about the threat of ultralight aircraft used by dealers to smuggle drugs across the border, Flake appeared to express support for "more ultralights" in what seemed to be a failed attempt to echo Carmona's support for enforcement measures.
All in all, the debate didn't hinge on any one gaffe. Without the presence of Libertarian candidate Marc Victor, over the course of an hour, both candidates reinforced their respective brands while seeming to weather any fallout from the recent spate of negative ads.
With polls indicating a close race and some ballots already in the mail, both candidates will have only one more opportunity to challenge each other directly, on October 25.