Riley Harmon ’22
March 5, 2020
The two Senate seats held by Arizona lawmakers stretch across the partisan aisle, with one occupied by Senator Krysten Sinema, a Democrat, and Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, holding the other. McSally was appointed to the Senate seat in Jan. 2019. There is a special election in Arizona in Nov. 2020 which may change this partisan dynamic; Captain Mark Kelley, a Democrat, is campaigning for McSally’s seat.
Kelly is a former Nasa astronaut, Captain in the United States navy, and engineer who is mounting a campaign against McSally. Alison Jue ’20, a politics and legal studies dual major from Arizona, worked in the Senate this past summer and recognized that there may be a difficult road ahead for Kelly because Sinema is the first Democrat to serve in the Senate for Arizona since 1988.
“Democrats have consistently wanted [Sinema] to be more vocal about her opposition to Trump and conservative policies, while Republicans say she is far too liberal,” Jue said. “Because constituents are feeling a little resentful about her actions in the Senate, I cannot help but wonder if Arizonans will take those feelings out on [Kelly] just because he is a Democrat.”
However, as of January, according to Public Policy Polling, Kelly is polling four points ahead of McSally.
Fernando Barceló POM ’20 is also from Arizona. “Having [Kelly] as [Sen. McSally’s] opponent I think is very appealing to people in the center,” Barceló said.
To counter Kelly’s support from moderates, McSally tied him to Senator Bernie Sanders in a new campaign ad while the Kelly campaign continues to talk down a connection between Sanders, pushing Kelly as more moderate.
“Senator Sinema was elected to the Senate due to her ability to capture the vote of more moderate Arizona voters and Kelly seems to be running on that same strategy,” Jue said. “Kelly frequently talks about how he would work across the aisle and combat partisanship, which are very similar to the talking points that come out of Senator Sinema’s office.”
Kelly announced his campaign in Feb. 2019 by releasing a video featuring him and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Scripps Class of 1993. The video titled, “My Next Mission” discusses his time serving in the United States navy, his missions into space, and what Giffords has taught him.
“What I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people’s lives,” Kelly said.
Giffords was a member of the House of Representatives for Arizona’s 8th Congressional district for five years when, in 2011, she was the victim of a mass shooting. She survived a shot to the head and made an impressive recovery over the course of a year but still suffered from brain damage and eventually resigned from Congress a year after the shooting.
Besides helping him announce his campaign, Giffords’ influence remains present in the campaign. Kelly is using a democratic strategist for his campaign that Giffords also used in her first races.
Additionally, advocating for gun control is a main platform of Kelly’s campaign. Since the shooting, the Giffords have been avid gun control advocates. They started the organization Americans for Responsible Solutions following the Sandy Hook shooting. In 2016 they merged Americans for Responsible Solutions with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to form the gun control organization that is now called The Giffords.
Along with gun control, Kelly’s main campaign platforms are improving healthcare, supporting veterans, helping people achieve the American dream, bettering the education system, securing the border, fixing the immigration system, protecting Medicare and social security, maintaining national security, advancing women’s rights, and finally addressing climate change.
A win for Kelly would chip away at the narrow majority of Senate Republicans, making Arizona a completely blue state in the Senate for the first time since 1953.
Image Credit: CBS News