This Couple Gives Each Other Space

Gabrielle Giffords with her astronaut boyfriend Mark Kelly
Gabrielle Giffords and astronaut boyfriend Mark Kelly, who's on the space shuttle Discovery. (Courtesy Gabrielle Giffords)
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, July 7, 2006

Gabrielle Giffords has a boyfriend who's out of this world -- 220 miles, to be exact.

Giffords, a candidate for Arizona's 8th District congressional seat, is dating Mark Kelly , the pilot on the space shuttle Discovery. She was at the July 4 launch, picked one of the wake-up songs (U2's "Beautiful Day") for the 12-day mission, and will be there when the shuttle returns to Earth. "I've just never been as proud to be an American," Giffords said from the campaign trail yesterday.

The two met three years ago in China; both were young fellows selected by the National Committee on United States-China Relations. Giffords, 36, served five years in the Arizona House and Senate before launching her bid for the open seat held by GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe for 22 years. Kelly, 42, is a Navy fighter pilot and Desert Storm vet and was on the Endeavour shuttle mission in 2001.

They started their long-distance romance 18 months ago -- she lives in Tucson; Kelly, a divorced father of two young daughters, lives in Houston. Last Thanksgiving they were hiking in Sedona when Giffords found 26 messages on her cellphone announcing Kolbe's retirement and urging her to run. "Mark and I sat down and had a long talk about it," she said. "One of the reasons I love him so much is that he's very supportive of my passion for public service. He strongly encouraged me to run."

The Democrat looks strong but faces a six-person primary in September. Kelly, an independent, has made a few appearances with her as a private citizen. "He can't endorse me. He doesn't wear his spacesuit," she said. Nonetheless, "people get very excited."

She flew back to Arizona after the launch but hopes to talk to Kelly on the space station phone this week. He's carrying a tiny desert landscape, her mother's class ring and a ring of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler into space with him. (They're pals.) In the meantime, she's sending e-mails and has NASA's streaming video on the corner of her computer screen. "I'm very proud of him," she says.

At Bush's Bash, the Gift of Cash

What to give the leader of the free world for his 60th birthday?

The first lady's presents were modest. Laura Bush gave her husband the new Johnny Cash CD, "American V: A Hundred Highways," and cycling clothes. She also gave him an evening to remember: She surprised him by arranging to have some of his first-grade classmates and fellow Yale '68 grads among the 150 guests at Tuesday's White House celebration.

But the party chair? He had dollar signs in his eyes.

Ken Mehlman , chairman of the Republican National Committee, saw a fund-raising opportunity. In a mass e-mailing, he invited supporters to celebrate the "very special birthday" by signing an e-card and tacking on a gift -- a $60 donation to help with the 2006 mid-term elections -- that Mehlman said would be something "our entire party can share." Asked how many had signed up as of yesterday, RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said, "Thousands."

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

  • Actor Jared Leto pumping iron at the Dupont Circle Results Gym on Sunday afternoon. The "normal-looking" actor- turned-rocker showed up at the door without his ID -- which prevented him from buying a $23 day pass -- and suggested the manager Google him for identification. Two fans in the gym recognized Leto, so he got the pass and spent two uninterrupted hours working out on the treadmill and free weights. Good thing he got in his workout early -- later that night, Leto flipped backward and landed on his head (hard) while crowd-surfing during the show his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, gave at the 9:30 club. Dazed but apparently fine, Leto finished the set.
  • Karl Rove at the reopened National Portrait Gallery on Monday afternoon. Passersby gawked as the White House deputy chief of staff carefully viewed portraits of American presidents. Rove lingered at Ronald Reagan , cruised past Bill Clinton and spent some time staring at George H. W. Bush .

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