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 McSallyThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Trump endorses McSally in Arizona Senate race Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership 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 McCainTrump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Trump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump goes after Democrats over photo of drowned migrants Schumer displays photo of drowned migrants on Senate floor in appeal to Trump McConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoHouse panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Dems get behind businesswoman challenging Joni Ernst 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 Clinton'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Impeaching the president: At what cost, and by what method? The Evergreen State and the soul of the Democratic Party MORE in 1996, but Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Ocasio-Cortez on Biden: 'I think that he's not a pragmatic choice' 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 GallegoBipartisan House duo unveils amendment to block Iran strike without Congress's approval The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership 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.