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Former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords, announces Senate bid in Arizona

Former astronaut Mark Kelly speaks on Capitol Hill as his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, listens.
Former astronaut Mark Kelly speaks on Capitol Hill as his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, listens. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, announced Tuesday that he is moving forward with a U.S. Senate bid, a decision that could create a marquee race next year in Arizona.

Kelly, a Democrat, is challenging Sen. Martha McSally (R), who was appointed late last year by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to the seat long held by John McCain (R), who died last year after a battle with brain cancer.

Kelly, 54, who has been heavily recruited by Democrats, announced his intentions with a video in which he calls the campaign “my next mission.”

Giffords retired from Congress after surviving a 2011 assassination attempt by a gunman. She and Kelly have since become well-known gun-control advocates.

Arizona governor taps Martha McSally to fill Senate seat once held by McCain

Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and the husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, announced his campaign for Arizona's Senate seat on Feb. 12. (Video: Mark Kelly)

Giffords is prominently featured in her husband’s video, which also includes biographical information about him and a pledge to bring people together.

“What I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people’s lives,” Kelly says. “Solving some of the hardest problems requires one thing, and that’s teamwork. Partisanship and polarization and gerrymandering and corporate money have ruined our politics, and it’s divided us.”

It’s unclear whether Kelly will have a clear path to the Democratic nomination.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) has also been considering a 2020 Senate run. After Kelly unveiled his video, Gallego went on Twitter.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m looking seriously at running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, and that hasn’t changed,” he wrote. “I’ll be making a final decision and announcement soon.”

McSally is a former congresswoman whose appointment to McCain’s seat came after she narrowly lost a Senate race last year to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

Next year’s election will determine who finishes the last two years of McCain’s term. The seat will be on the ballot again in 2022 for a full six-year term.

Nationally, Republicans face a more difficult Senate map in 2020 than they did in 2018. They are defending 22 seats; Democrats are defending 12.

Arizona is one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities. Party leaders hope to build on the success of Sinema’s 2018 victory in a state they hope to turn blue.

But if Gallego runs, Democrats would first have to navigate a primary that could become divisive and expensive. Sinema did not have to endure a competitive primary when she ran.

Many Republicans, meanwhile, were disappointed by McSally’s November defeat. Some are bracing for another difficult campaign.

Dan Eberhart, an oil industry executive and donor to McSally’s 2018 campaign, argued that she is “vulnerable to say the least” moving toward 2020.

“Now that the thesis that a Democrat can win statewide has been proven, we are going to see stronger challengers like Kelly and Gallego for statewide offices in the future,” said Eberhart. He said he plans to support McSally again in 2020.

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