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Democratic challenger Mark Kelly and Republican Sen. Martha McSally prepare to debate in Phoenix, Oct. 6, 2020. (The Arizona Republic via AP) Democratic challenger Mark Kelly and Republican Sen. Martha McSally prepare to debate in Phoenix, Oct. 6, 2020. (The Arizona Republic via AP)

Democratic challenger Mark Kelly and Republican Sen. Martha McSally prepare to debate in Phoenix, Oct. 6, 2020. (The Arizona Republic via AP)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde October 30, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • McSally has echoed common Republican claims, portraying Kelly as a Democrat who wants to defund police departments and is too cozy with China’s communist government. 

  • Kelly has cast McSally as someone who doesn’t embody Arizona’s independent spirit and whose voting record has hurt Arizona.

The U.S. Senate race in Arizona is a contest between two military veterans who say they can get things done for Arizona despite the partisanship in Washington — an astronaut who is seeking elective office for the first time, and an appointed senator trying to win an election to keep her seat.

The incumbent is Republican Sen. Martha McSally, a retired Air Force pilot and Trump ally seeking election to the Senate for a second time in two years. A former House member, McSally lost her 2018 Senate bid to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, but made her way to the Senate anyway as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s appointee to fill the seat left open after Sen. John McCain died.

Her challenger is Mark Kelly, the astronaut and retired Navy pilot, who went on to co-found a Tucson company that provides aerial data and analytics from sensors deployed to the stratosphere. 

Arizona is a historically Republican state — Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by 3.5 percentage points in 2016 — but has become a battleground lately as Democrats increase their influence. In 2018, Democrats won four statewide elections, including Sinema’s race, after having won none in the four previous election cycles, the Arizona Republic reported.

This election cycle, McSally has echoed common Republican claims, portraying Kelly as a Democrat who wants to defund police departments and as too cozy with China’s communist government. For his part, Kelly has cast McSally as a staunch Trump supporter who doesn't embody Arizona’s independent spirit and whose voting record has hurt the state.

Here’s a recap of their claims, fact-checked by PolitiFact.

Claims about McSally’s record

McSally: "Of course I will always protect those with preexisting conditions. Always." 

This is False. The Affordable Care Act is the national law that prevents health care insurance companies from discriminating against people with preexisting medical conditions in terms of coverage and pricing.

As a member of the House and Senate, McSally has supported efforts to undo the health law — voting in 2015 to repeal it and in 2017 to replace it with the Republican-backed American Health Care Act, which would have permitted insurers to charge higher premiums for people with complicated medical histories. McSally supported a 2019 proposal backed by Republicans, but experts say that bill falls short in terms of meaningfully protecting Americans with preexisting medical conditions.

Kelly: McSally "voted to take away money from Fort Huachuca to pay for the border wall." 

This is Half True. The Defense Department in September 2019 said that funding for a $30 million project at Arizona’s Fort Huachuca Army installation would be delayed in order to use those funds for the construction of barriers at the southwest border. The shift in funds happened as a result of Trump’s February 2019 declaration of a national emergency at the border. (Many immigration experts and lawmakers questioned the existence of the crisis Trump cited.)

Votes cast by McSally in 2019 allowed Trump’s declaration to continue. While the resolutions she voted on did not explicitly ask whether to divert money from Fort Huachuca to a border wall, allowing Trump’s declaration to continue had that effect. Funding for the Arizona project was delayed, not scrapped entirely. In April, the Trump administration restored money for the Arizona project by taking money from the Pentagon’s budget for operations in Europe and the Middle East.

Kelly: McSally "supported a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and ‘shift costs’ onto seniors" and "even supported raising the retirement age."

This is Mostly True. PolitiFact found that as recently as 2017, McSally endorsed a move to transition to a voucher program, also called a premium support system. Experts in 2017 said proposals to convert Medicare into a new system could lead to higher costs for seniors already enrolled in Medicare. Under a voucher or premium support system, beneficiaries would receive a payment to buy private insurance or a traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan. When McSally ran for the U.S. House  in 2012, she supported potentially raising the retirement age.

Claims about Kelly’s record

McSally: Kelly took a "Chinese communist banner" to space.

This is False. Kelly went to space in 2006 as pilot for STS-121 Discovery. He took a banner made for him commemorating both his space flight and his participation in young leaders conferences in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The forums he participated in were organized by a U.S. group that seeks to bring together young American and Chinese professionals, so they better understand each other’s country. The banner Kelly took to space spelled out in both English and in Chinese the name of the program he was part of, Young Leaders Forum. A U.S. flag was also on board the shuttle.

McSally: Kelly wants to "defund the police."

We rated this Pants on Fire. Kelly, the son of two police officers, has said he does not want to defund police departments. He has said that reforms in policing are needed, including independent oversight and more transparency. "I do not agree that we should defund the police, or defund police departments. That’s not the approach here. We need reform of policing," Kelly said in a radio interview in June.

McSally: Kelly "criticized" the Paycheck Protection Program, "then turned around and took money for his own multi-million dollar company."  

This is Mostly False. Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses affected by the pandemic. Kelly criticized how the program had been administered, not the existence of the program. 

World View Enterprises, the company Kelly co-founded and in which he has investments, received up to $2 million in loans from the program. Kelly’s campaign and the company say he was not involved in the application process.

Bloggers: Claim that a yearbook photo showed Kelly dressed as Adolf Hitler.

This is False. A conservative website and a Facebook post shared a black-and-white picture of a man in dark sunglasses wearing an armband with what appears to be a swastika symbol. The posts claimed it was a yearbook picture of Kelly. But the photo does not include a yearbook caption or in any way identify the person as Kelly. 

The website’s purported evidence is another image showing Kelly wearing sunglasses, which the website said appear to be the same glasses worn by the man in the costume.

Multiple people who attended the Merchant Marine Academy with Kelly, including two people in the picture, told PolitiFact that Kelly is not the man next to them in the picture.

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