Kelly declared victory earlier this week as he consistently led McSally as votes were counted. “Tonight is about getting to work,” he said Tuesday in Arizona. “There’s nothing that we cannot achieve if we set our minds to it and work together.”
It’s the second Arizona Senate race McSally has lost in two years after being narrowly defeated by Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2018. McSally was appointed to the state’s other Senate seat by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey just a year later, following former senator John McCain’s death.
Kelly’s victory is one of few bright spots for Democrats in Senate races this year; the party has lost a number of races against incumbent Republicans that it thought it could win and its path to taking the Senate majority is increasingly slim. The parties are currently tied at 48 seats each.
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But Kelly’s win is still further proof that the Republican Party is losing its long-held grip on Arizona and is another major sign that the state is winnable for Democrats. For years, the party consistently held both Senate seats, and Republican presidential nominees would win the state handily.
But Arizona’s increasing diversity — nearly a third of the state is now Latino — has meant that Democrats have been more successful in recent years. Former vice president Joe Biden is running neck and neck with President Donald Trump in the state.
Kelly, an astronaut, is the husband of former Arizona representative Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the 2011 Tucson shooting that left six people dead.
At a recent debate, McSally attacked Kelly for supporting a "radical political organization," apparently referring to his anti–gun violence work with Giffords. McSally said he was “a political operative for a decade” who has supported “some of the most extreme, left-wing candidates in our country running for office, bankrolling them, endorsing them.”
As AZ Central noted, Kelly owns a gun, and he responded to the attack by explaining that she was referring to his work with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which works to pass anti–gun violence legislation on the state and national levels.
"Gabby was injured, shot in the head, in 2011," Kelly said. "The issue of gun violence is personal for Gabby and me, and I'll never forget what she went through for that year and a half — in the hospital for six months, a year of significant rehab. … So we formed an organization to try to make communities and help communities become safer from gun violence."
Healthcare also became a central issue in the race, as Kelly hit McSally for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. McSally repeatedly campaigned on supporting protections for people with preexisting conditions, despite that vote. She and other Republicans, including Trump, have argued that they will protect people with preexisting conditions even if the ACA is overturned, but have not presented a plan to do so.
McSally, the first woman to fly in combat for the US military, said during the campaign that she was concerned about the possibility of some people voting for both Trump and her Democratic rival.
“I know that seems weird to all of you, like you think, ‘Of course they’re going to vote Republican,’” McSally said at a campaign event. “But we’re just talking about people who are focused on finding a job and the kids are out of school and all sorts of distractions going on. And they’re not activists, and they may like Trump, but they’re not thinking down ballot.”
Trump did praise McSally at a recent rally in the state, though the senator did not speak onstage.
“And you know what? We're not going to take her time or anything, but Martha McSally is here," Trump said in Tucson, calling her up onstage. "She's saving your Second Amendment. She's been a great, great senator. Martha, come here, honey."
He added that McSally was "a great worker and a great fighter pilot."
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Because the race between McSally and Kelly is a special election to fill the Senate seat left open by McCain, Kelly can be seated as soon as Nov. 30.
In September, Kelly told ABC he believed he should be seated as soon as possible if he won.
"Regardless of who wins, once the vote is certified here in Arizona, in accordance with the law, that person should be promptly seated to work for Arizonans," Kelly said during an appearance on The View. "They're concerned about healthcare, preexisting conditions. They're concerned about protecting Social Security and Medicare. So in accordance with the law, when the election is done, I think it's important that if I was to win that I get sworn."