By Eric Mack

Homing in on securing the border, fighting crime, and flipping the seat of Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., a trio of hard-nosed, America First, Arizona GOP Senate primary candidates lined up in a lively debate Wednesday night on Newsmax, vowing to maintain conservative principles in a key midterm battleground state.

“The Democrats in power have failed, and it would be a mistake, I think, for a conservative candidate to say all the right things in the primary and then move to the squishy middle: That’s not what people want to hear,” former Big Tech executive Blake Masters, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, told the crowd at Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix, Arizona, in the live Newsmax debate moderated by anchor John Bachman.

“What we need to do is run conservative candidates who can articulate these correct and conservative principles, our correct policies, this America First agenda. We need someone who can articulate that in a way that attracts, not alienates, independents.”

“This message works and we will crush Mark Kelly,” continued Masters, who absorbed some shots from challenger Jim Lamon, while Gen. Mick Maguire proudly stood between them without levying any pointed attacks on opponents.

“We’re up against some crazy radical activists, and we can’t afford to play defense anymore,” Masters added. “We need to learn from President Trump and play offense.

“So, yeah, we’re going to close the border. We’re going to stop inflation. We’re going to stop election fraud.”

McGuire, a retired commanding general of the Arizona National Guard, hailed receiving praise from both candidates on stage, including Lamon thanking him for not being “a woke general.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, running second in the race, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average (RCP), declined Newsmax’s invitation to participate.

“Leadership is leadership; unfortunately the body politic has devolved into ‘likership,'” Maguire said, at times playing the role of a level-headed middle man between Masters’ and Lamon’s attacks. “Everything that this candidate presents to you is the most proven trusted, confident leader who has earned the trust not only from Republicans, but the independents and the rest.

“You can buy a politician, but you cannot buy a great leader,” Maguire added, at one point noting “I’m broke” when Masters and Lamon were lobbing attacks on their well-funded campaigns. “You can buy a politician, but you cannot buy a great leader. I have told you early on that I am the one person who tonight I think has received applause from Blake and from Jim, so I appreciate their endorsements.

“And, ultimately, we have to beat Mark Kelly.”

Masters, the target of Lamon’s attacks, is leading the RCP polling average at 27.7%, followed Brnovich (17.7%), Lamon (15%), and McGuire (5%).

“I’m eminently qualified for D.C.: From the age of 7, I’m a farm boy, and the first job I had was shoveling manure, so I’m already ready to go D.C. and take care of things,” Lamon, a former college football player and U.S. paratrooper, said in his opening.

From there, the energy sector business leader Lamon challenged Masters on once supporting immigration, being “owned” by his wealth donors, and not working to “fix” Big Tech when Masters was a part of that powerful and wealthy industry.

“We cannot have someone who is inexperienced, someone who is young, who has not gone through the rigors, someone who is a global capitalist from California who, by the way, never answered the question of why did he write what he said about having open borders,” Lamon said.

Masters was quick to respond to Lamon’s attacks, and pointed back to Trump’s endorsement a number of times in the 1-hour debate.

“Jim Lamon, ladies and gentlemen, keeping it classy,” Masters shot back at the first of the attacks. “Look, President Trump endorsed me because he knows that I’ll be the best on the border. I’m the only one bold enough to say that.”

Despite being targeted for his past position on the border, Masters vowed “the correct amount of illegal immigration is zero.”

“The problem is in 2023, 2024, [President Joe] Biden will veto any good border legislation,” Masters added. “So my pledge to you is to not vote to give Biden a thing, and I will whip the Republican votes to make sure that we block his agenda – unless and until we get some border security.

“We need to re-implement those America First policies,” he continued. “President Trump trusts me to do that. He met with Gen. Lamon, he thought it was a bozo. I’m the American First candidate. That’s why I’m endorsed.”

Lamon responded he is not beholden to wealthy donors like Masters would be, saying “no one is going to control me or own me; he’s owned right now and will be in U.S. Senate.”

Lamon also noted he is endorsed by two key parties important to Arizona voters, including a National Border Patrol Council leader, who was in attendance, and the Arizona Police and Sheriffs Associations.

“This guy [Masters] took a slap also at the National Border Patrol Council, all 21,000 members, in the last debate,” Lamon said. “He’s taken it again. This shot – you need to understand – that’s California talk, buddy, not Arizona. We love our police and border here.”

But all three candidates were strong on the border, crime, and the goal of defeating Kelly in the November general midterm Senate election. Control of the Senate majority might hinge on the seat they are running for.

“We must get back to removal of the criminal gangs, all of the illegal activity, the cartels, everything that the left, including Mark Kelly, aided and abetted by their actions, and your Senate, to allow this continue to happen,” Lamon concluded.

The Arizona GOP Senate primary is Aug. 2.

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