The campaigns for 2020 are well underway, but on Tuesday, Feb. 12, the latest announcement by a Democrat to join the next election cycle wasn't in a run for the presidency. Rather, it was another key race: The Senate seat vacated last year in the crucial swing state of Arizona. So who is Mark Kelly? The astronaut and activist just launched his "next mission" with his announcement that he was running for Senate in Arizona via a video posted on social media on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Kelly joins a race to take over a critical Republican-held seat in a closely divided U.S. Senate. He'll be vying with other Democrats for the seat currently held by Sen. Martha McSally, who was appointed to the seat after the passing of fellow Republican Sen. John McCain in 2018. McSally will remain in the position until a special election in 2020.
Kelly is the husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, and together they became advocates for gun control after Giffords was shot in the head by an attacker during a public appearance in 2011. Afterwards, in 2013 the couple founded anti-gun violence political action committee Americans For Responsible Solutions, now called Giffords, to advocate for gun control. But the 54-year-old Kelly was notable before that in his own right, having served as an astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after being a pilot for the United States Navy.
In his campaign launch video shared Tuesday, Kelly described how his time in space (literally) has shaped his perspective and philosophy on society. "It becomes pretty obvious pretty early in space that we're all kind of in this together," Kelly said, describing his first launch in July 2006.
Kelly also shared about how his mother became a police officer in the 1970s despite the institutional barriers against women at the time, part of his upbringing steeped in a commitment to public service, as well as his experience working through Gifford's recovery period.
"I learned a lot from being an astronaut and a combat pilot. I learned a lot about solving problems from being an engineer. But what I learned from my wife, @GabbyGiffords, is how you use policy to improve people's lives," Kelly tweeted on Tuesday.
Breaking with the trajectory of some other progressive Democratic candidates who have recently announced major political campaigns, Kelly downplayed his partisan affiliation and instead focused on bridging the divide between the two parties.
"Partisanship and polarization and gerrymandering and corporate money have ruined our politics. It's divided us," Kelly said in the video. "Solving some of the hardest problems requires one thing, and that's teamwork."
But the former astronaut made it clear he was in line with Democratic Arizona values, speaking about climate change's effects on the region, health care, and wage growth.
Arizona has seen a lot of political change in the last year, with the passing of Sen. McCain as well as the resignation of Sen. Jeff Flake. Flake was replaced by Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema, who broke a 30-year-streak of Republican-only senators in the state when she won her seat in the 2018 midterm elections. Should Kelly win in 2020, Arizona would then see two Democratic senators representing the state at once— a first in several decades. So the news was a big deal, and reactions were swift on social media.
Referencing Kelly's announcement, New York Magazine's Gabriel Debenedetti tweeted, "Watch this Dem primary for a big, important hint about the party's direction in one of the most important emerging swing states." He added that there would be more candidates joining the race as the cycle unfolds.
Or, as one Democratic politician put it, tweeting about the news: "Arizona is about to be LIT!" Yep, that pretty much sums it up.