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Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly on Tuesday said he will run for a Senate seat in his adopted home state of Arizona, giving Democrats an early chance at a seat they have not held since the late Sen. Carl Hayden (D) retired in 1969.

Kelly spent more than 54 days in space across three NASA missions. He has turned to politics in the years since his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D), survived an assassination attempt in a 2011 mass shooting that claimed the lives of six others. 

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Announcing his campaign in a video posted to Twitter, Kelly leaned hard into his career as a Navy aviator and astronaut — and on his wife, who appeared with him.

“It becomes pretty obvious pretty early when you get into space that we’re all in this together,” Kelly said in the video.

 

Kelly will face another former aviator, Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyNew rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees The Seventeenth Amendment and the censure of Donald Trump Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly jokes about piloting congressional subway MORE (R), who held the same seat in Congress that Giffords once held.

McSally was appointed to fill the remainder of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party MORE’s (R) term after McCain’s first replacement, Jon Kyl, stepped down at the end of last year. McSally had run for an open Senate seat last year, losing narrowly to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D).

Kelly’s interest in running for the seat was a poorly guarded secret. He met with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Mars rover prepares for landing The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats ready mammoth relief bill for 10-day sprint Senate Republicans target Democrats over school reopenings in new campaign MORE (D-Nev.) earlier this year to discuss the race, and he had identified a campaign manager by last month, sources told The Hill.

He has been working with Rodd McLeod, a veteran Arizona Democratic strategist who worked on Giffords’s first race. 

The Arizona Democrat said Tuesday he would work to ensure affordable health care and wage growth, standard Democratic talking points. But he struck a tone similar to Sinema, who ran her 2018 campaign by tacking more toward the middle of the ideological spectrum than toward the left.

“Partisanship and polarization and gerrymandering and corporate money have ruined our politics, and it’s divided us,” Kelly said. “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.”

Arizona and national Democrats see Kelly as their ideal candidate against McSally in a state that has moved left in recent years. No Democrat has won Arizona’s presidential electoral votes since Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMellman: White working-class politics Judge rejects Biden request for delay in Trump environmental rollback case Considering impeachment's future MORE in 1996, but Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonShelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Cruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts MORE came within 3.5 points of winning there in 2016.

Sinema became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in Arizona since Dennis DeConcini in 1988, and Democrats now hold five of the state’s nine congressional districts.

Kelly may not have the race all to himself. Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoMore than 0K raised for Ohio mom arrested for leaving kids alone at motel to work GoFundMe set up for mother arrested after leaving kids alone while at work GOP Arizona rep urges vaccine priority for 'people that are here legally' MORE (D) is considering a bid as well. Another potential candidate, former Attorney General Grant Woods — a Republican-turned-Democrat who served as McCain’s first congressional chief of staff — said earlier this week he would not run.

Updated at 9:02 a.m.