Politico

Former astronaut Mark Kelly launches Arizona Senate run

Mark Kelly, the former space shuttle commander who teamed with his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), to advocate for stricter gun laws after Giffords was shot at a public event, announced Tuesday that he will run for Senate in Arizona as a Democrat.

Kelly’s four-and-a-half-minute announcement video does not mention President Donald Trump, who carried Arizona in the 2016 election. Nor does it include any reference to the gun-control initiatives Kelly and Giffords have championed in the years since the 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz., that seriously wounded Giffords and led to her resignation from Congress.

But Kelly does talk about access to health care and climate change, which has amplified droughts in the Southwestern U.S.

“We’ve seen this retreat from science and data and facts, and if we don’t take these issues seriously, we can’t solve these problems,” Kelly says in the video. “We’re going to need to bring people together from all parts of the state and all walks of life.”

Kelly is seeking the Democratic nomination in next year’s special election, which will fill the final two years of late Sen. John McCain’s unexpired term. The seat’s appointed occupant, Republican Martha McSally, took office last month after her selection by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey; McSally plans to be a candidate in the 2020 special election, as well.

McSally lost Arizona’s 2018 Senate race to Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

It’s unclear whether Kelly will get a free lane to the general election. Demcoratic Rep. Ruben Gallego told POLITICO late last year he was leaning toward running. And freshman Rep. Greg Stanton, the former mayor of Phoenix, has also been considering a campaign. But one potential candidate has already removed himself from the running: Grant Woods, the state’s former attorney general and a Republican-turned-Democrat, announced last week that he wouldn’t run in 2020 after considering it.

Arizona, the one-time Republican bastion and birthplace of Goldwater-style conservativism, is likely to be a major 2020 battleground state, driven by changing demographics and political realignments. Trump carried the state — which has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1952 — by fewer than 4 percentage points in 2016. And last year, Sinema became the first Democrat to win a Senate election in Arizona since 1988.

Democrats are pinning their hopes of claiming the Senate majority on winning the Arizona special election. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 advantage in the chamber, and both parties’ 2020 target lists are limited. There are only two Republican senators up for reelection in states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016: Cory Gardner in Colorado and Susan Collins in Maine. Meanwhile, two Democrats are up in states Trump won: Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.) and Gary Peters (Mich.).

Kelly’s announcement is seen as a recruiting victory for Democrats: The party has long hoped to see him run for office in Arizona, but the astronaut and Navy veteran demurred until now, instead working from the outside with Giffords on gun control.

In the announcement video, Kelly discusses the assassination attempt on his wife and his retirement from NASA shortly after to care for her.

“One thing I realized early on was that Gabby needed me to help her through this,” Kelly says in the video, choking back tears. “She needed an advocate. And the thing I have to do for my wife is to be able to think clearly and make good decisions.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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