Mark Kelly announces run for McCain Senate seat in Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) — Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who rocketed to the national spotlight when his congresswoman wife Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announced Tuesday he's running to finish John McCain's last term in the U.S. Senate.

Kelly, 54, is a top Democratic recruit to take on Republican Martha McSally in one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election.

McSally is a former Republican congresswoman who was appointed to McCain's seat last year after she narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally leaned heavily on her record as the first woman to fly a combat mission as a fighter pilot, but she was hurt by her embrace of President Donald Trump.

If Kelly is nominated, the race would pit a Navy veteran and astronaut against a trailblazing Air Force pilot in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flyer who was famously shot down and held captive.

Democrats are eagerly watching the Arizona contest, having already defeated McSally in a Senate race just a few months ago.

Related: Scott Kelly & twin brother Mark Kelly

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Scott Kelly & twin brother Mark Kelly
BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN - MARCH 26: Expedition 43 NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, left, and his identical twin brother Mark Kelly, pose for a photograph Thursday, March 26, 2015 at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 28, Kazakh time (March 27 Eastern time.) As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
During a news conference on Jan. 19, 2015 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas Expedition 45/46 Commander, Astronaut Scott Kelly along with his brother, former Astronaut Mark Kelly speak to news media about Scott Kelly's 1-year mission aboard the International Space Station. (Photo by Robert Markowitz via NASA)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Carson Daly, Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly appear on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly wears a blue wrist band that has a peace symbol, a heart and the word 'Gabby' to show his support for his sister-in-law U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as he rested onboard a Russian Search and Rescue helicopter shortly after he and fellow crew members Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri landed in their Soyuz TMA-01M capsule near the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. NASA Astronaut Kelly, Russian Cosmonauts Skripochka and Kaleri are returning from almost six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 25 and 26 crews. (Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - DECEMBER 04: Former NASA Astronauts Scott Kelly (L) and Mark Kelly attend the 2017 Breakthrough Prize at NASA Ames Research Center on December 4, 2016 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Scott Kelly, Kathleen Kennedy and Mark Kelly attend the 2016 Time 100 Gala, Time's Most Influential People In The World at Jazz At Lincoln Center at the Time Warner Center on April 26, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Time)
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Kelly and Giffords have for years pushed Congress to enact gun control measures with little success. They shifted their focus to state legislatures in recent years, helping to strengthen background checks and domestic violence protections, among other modest protections.

Giffords was severely wounded in a mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011. The shooting at a Giffords meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store in Tucson left six dead and 13 injured. Shooter Jared Loughner was sentenced to life in prison.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to the vacant Senate seat after his first appointee, former Sen. Jon Kyl, resigned after only a few months in office. The seat is a top target for Democrats because McSally just lost a Senate race in November and Democrats posted a strong showing in the November election, winning three statewide contests and picking up legislative and congressional seats.

The 2020 election will decide who finishes the last two years of McCain's term. The winner would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix is also considering a Senate run, which would likely set up a tough fight for the Democratic nomination.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a lifelong Republican who became a Democrat and a fierce critic of Trump, announced last week that he won't run, saying he didn't want to fight in a contested Democratic primary.

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