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Mark Kelly unseats Martha McSally in Arizona, flipping John McCain’s former Senate seat blue

By PhillyNews.FYI , in News , at November 4, 2020 Tags: , , , , ,


Mark Kelly has unseated Republican Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona, marking the first time in modern history that the state has sent two Democratic senators to Washington.

Kelly, a retired astronaut and the husband to former Rep. Gaby Giffords, D-Ariz., ran as a pragmatic liberal. Often posting double-digit margins, he held a wide lead over McSally throughout the year. At one point in early September, Kelly led by 17 points in a Fox News poll.

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McSally, never popular in the state, struggled to shake her affiliation with President Trump, at times appearing visibly flustered by the association as Election Day approached. In October, she dodged a debate question about her support for the president, after which Trump belittled her at a rally.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Arizona particularly hard. While McSally tried to tout her work on emergency relief packages, voters continued to hang her star next to Trump’s.

As a result, McSally never sustained gains among suburban voters. This was especially true in the key Phoenix suburbs of Maricopa County, where local polls once showed her down 20 points after anti-Trump conservative super PAC the Lincoln Project ran attack ads this spring.

That county had been a Republican stronghold until 2018, when moderate Democrat Kyrsten Sinema beat McSally there among GOP voters. Despite the loss, McSally still became a U.S. senator after Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, appointed her to replace GOP Sen. Jon Kyl. The outgoing legislator had earlier been appointed to fill the seat left open by the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., upon his death in 2018.

McSally is the only senator in U.S. history to lose her election bid but still score a Senate seat.

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McSally had a difficult time trying to distinguish herself from Kelly, who ran a campaign aimed at furthering Sinema’s inroads with moderate Republicans turned off by Trump’s incivility. Kelly embraced pragmatic versions of liberal platforms, such as a public healthcare option and climate change legislation geared at jumpstarting the renewable energy industry.

Both candidates were veteran military pilots. McSally was the first woman combat pilot, and Kelly was a heavily decorated naval aviator deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. NASA later recruited Kelly and his twin brother, and Kelly flew a number of space shuttle flights before retiring from both NASA and the Navy in 2011.

That same year, a gunman targeted Giffords, Kelly’s wife, in a mass shooting assassination attempt at a constituent event outside of a grocery store. Giffords, who was shot in the head, sustained severe brain damage, and Kelly, a former firearms owner, became a vocal advocate for stronger gun regulations. The couple launched a gun-control advocacy group together in 2013.

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At the same time, Kelly, the son of two police officers, bridged the gap between stronger gun laws and support for Second Amendment rights while evading GOP broadsides amid the Trump-led “law and order” attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer.

“Our rights and traditions are so important. [The] Second Amendment is so important,” he said during an Oct. 7 debate. “But we can never let a bunch of kids in [their] classroom, you know, get killed and think there’s nothing we can do about it.”

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The Copper State’s demographics have shifted with the introduction of younger voters who tend to favor Democrats, as well as an influx of Latinx voters, securing the state’s status as a toss-up.

Sinema, who upset McSally in 2018’s special election, took over the seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a staunch conservative who at times criticized Trump and endorsed Biden’s candidacy. Until Sinema, Republicans alone had represented the Copper State in the Senate since 1995.

A Democratic presidential candidate has not won Arizona since former President Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996.

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