SPOTLIGHT | AZ-sen

Why Mark Kelly Puts Arizona in Play

The retired astronaut brings plenty to the table in his first run for office.

FILE- In this Oct. 2, 2017, file photo former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., right, listens as her husband Mark Kelly, left, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kelly said Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, that he's running to finish John McCain's term in the U.S. Senate.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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Kyle Trygstad
Feb. 12, 2019, 10:20 a.m.

Mark Kelly checks several boxes that make him a top recruit for Senate Democrats beyond his marriage to Gabby Giffords, who was on track for a Senate bid of her own in Arizona before being shot at a constituent event eight years ago.

The veteran and retired astronaut can credibly run as an outsider, while starting the campaign with the kind of name ID few non-politicians enjoy.

Republicans can criticize him over his gun control advocacy through the Giffords PAC, which could be a liability in a state with libertarian roots that supported President Trump by 4 points in 2016. He’ll also be tied to national Democrats by Republicans who cite the party’s push left ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Otherwise Kelly’s lack of a voting record makes him largely a blank slate, and, while he could face a primary, his candidacy ensures the Republican-held seat is not only in play but also one of the party's very best pickup opportunities.

Winning the special election would signify quite a turn for Arizona, which, before Kyrsten Sinema defeated Martha McSally in November, hadn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988.

-- Kyle Trygstad

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