Republican U.S. Senate candidates Jeff Flake and Wil Cardon made a final-hour pitch to voters on Tuesday during a candidate forum in SaddleBrooke.
Flake and Cardon repeated the same basic message they've been delivering for months. Flake vowed to take his record in the U.S. House of pushing for smaller government, less taxation and reduced government spending to the Senate. Cardon called himself the type of businessman and outsider needed in Congress to break up the contingent of career politicians.
In what will likely be their last joint appearance in Southern Arizona before Tuesday's primary election, Flake and Cardon were joined by Bryan Hackbarth and Clair Van Steenwyk in the SaddleBrooke Republican Club forum that drew a packed house of 470 people to the Desert View Theater.
Van Steenwyk, a radio talk show host, called himself a "Christian constitutional" Republican who can stop Congress from taking away people's basic rights. Hackbarth, the former mayor of Youngtown, said he'll ensure the country returns to its religious roots.
For several months, Flake and Cardon have been locked in a high-priced duel of competing TV ads, mailers and social media messaging to show GOP voters they are the right choice to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican who has been in office for 18 years. Flake is a six-term U.S. representative. Cardon runs his family's real estate investment company.
In the Nov. 6 general election, the winner will face Democrat Richard Carmona, who is unopposed in his primary.
The four candidates agreed on many of the issues they were asked about Tuesday, such as the need to repeal the health-care overhaul they refer to as Obamacare and curtail what they say are over-reaching federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. But they offered slightly different perspectives on two issues:
• What to do with the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already here:
Flake said he opposes illegal immigration but supports legal immigration that enriches the country. He said his position is spelled out in the Strive Act, introduced in 2007 in the House. It calls for tougher border enforcement and a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who pay a large fine, pay all back taxes, learn English, return to their home country to register and go to the back of the line behind people already awaiting their citizenship.
"Amnesty is what we did in 1986," Flake said. "It was a mistake then, and it would be a mistake now."
Cardon said the border must be controlled before any plan is devised to handle illegal immigrants already in the United States.
"Amnesty has never been the answer, and I'm glad I haven't been in Congress for 12 years working on it," said Cardon, in a jab at Flake.
Flake has said while he once supported comprehensive immigration reform, he's always been against amnesty. He said his recent shift to promote border security first is based on a realization the country won't accept major reform until the border is secured.
Van Steenwyk said all illegal immigrants should be deported, as President Eisenhower did in the 1950s. Hackbarth said they should pay a fine, go to the back of the line and learn English.
• On the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that did not allow gays or lesbians to serve openly in the military before it was repealed in 2010:
Flake explained that he voted for repeal based on recommendations of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen.
"I've always said that since I have not served in the military, I would look to the military brass to see what the leaders of the military say," Flake said.
Cardon, Hackbarth and Van Steenwyk said the policy should not have been repealed.
"I don't believe the military is a social experiment," said Cardon, adding that he would not have let two people influenced by a Demo-cratic president sway his opinion on the issue.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradyMcCombs.