The retired astronaut won his Arizona Senate race, flipping a historically red seat

By Virginia Chamlee
November 05, 2020 03:35 PM
Advertisement
Credit: Courtney Pedroza/Getty

Democrat Mark Kelly joined a small club with his victory this week, becoming the fourth NASA astronaut elected to Congress, after flipping an Arizona Senate seat held by Republican Martha McSally.

According to the Arizona Secretary of State's website, Kelly, 54, won with more than 52 percent of the vote. In a tweet posted Wednesday, he said he was "deeply honored" to have been elected and to serve in the seat once held by the late Sen. John McCain.

A retired U.S. Navy captain and astronaut, Kelly has flown in four space missions, including the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2011. He is married to former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot and nearly killed in 2011.

His identical twin Scott Kelly is also a retired astronaut. The two participated in NASA's landmark "twins study," in which Scott spent a year aboard the space station while scientists collected Mark's physiological data back home for comparison.

In an appearance Tuesday evening in Tucson, Kelly made allusions to his time in space, referring to his campaign as a "mission" as votes continued to be tallied.

"When we launched this campaign from this very spot, right here, 619 days ago, I could have never anticipated just how many Arizonians would be part of this mission," said Kelly. "This mission does not end when the last vote is counted. It is only the beginning."

The Associated Press officially called the race for Kelly just before 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Kelly launched his campaign in February 2019, running on a platform that he said would emphasize affordable healthcare, improving wages, increasing employment, bolstering the economy and addressing climate change. He is also a gun safety advocate, and has been particularly vocal about that stance since his wife was shot.

His opponent, McSally, lost a race for the Arizona Senate in 2018, but found herself with a seat anyway after the state's governor appointed her to the seat vacated by Jon Kyl, who temporarily filled the seat after the August 2018 death of McCain.

Kelly's win came during an election in which Democrat Joe Biden is projected by the Associated Press to win Arizona, flipping a state that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Bill Clinton, who won Arizona in 1996, had been the last Democrat to win the state.

Analysts speculated that the flip had at least something to do with Trump's mocking of former Sen. McCain.

When he is sworn in, Kelly will be the only active member of Congress to have flown in space. He is preceded by two former NASA astronauts: former Sens. John Glenn and Jack Schmitt. Two other former members of Congress — Sen. Jake Garn and Rep. Bill Nelson — have flown in space as payload specialists.

Apollo 13 astronaut John "Jack" Swigert was also elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, but he died of cancer before he could take office.