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STEM group launches ‘Draft Mark Kelly’ effort in Arizona

314 Action is urging former astronaut to challenge appointed Sen. McSally

Mark Kelly, the husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is being encouraged to run for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Mark Kelly, the husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is being encouraged to run for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

314 Action, a group that backs candidates with scientific backgrounds, is launching a new effort Wednesday to encourage former astronaut and Navy veteran Mark Kelly to run for Senate in Arizona. 

Kelly, who is married to former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is among a handful of potential Democratic challengers to appointed Sen. Martha McSally. The race is expected to be a top party target in 2020, and 314 Action is hoping a show of support will bolster Kelly’s decision to run.

The effort to draft Kelly, shared first with Roll Call, involves a “six-figure” digital ad campaign. The ads will direct supporters to where they can sign a petition urging him to run. The campaign will largely target Arizonans on social media platforms.

“I think we’re going to see an overwhelming level of support for Mark Kelly to run for the United States Senate,” said Joshua Morrow, the executive director of 314 Action. “Mark is probably going to be the best-situated candidate to win.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey chose McSally last month to replace GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, who was himself appointed less than four months earlier to the late Sen. John McCain’s seat. McSally lost a close race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in November for the state’s other Senate seat. Arizona voters will decide next year in a special election who will serve out the final two years of McCain’s term.

Along with Kelly, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, whose district includes parts of Phoenix, has been exploring a run and said two weeks ago he would make a decision “in the coming weeks.”

Gallego said then that he was planning to meet with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Politico reported that Kelly met with the DSCC in December. Former McCain chief of staff Grant Woods, who backed Sinema this year, has also said he is considering running for Senate as a Democrat.

A DSCC aide confirmed that both Kelly, Gallego and Woods have met with the campaign committee. 

Morrow said the group’s decision to back Kelly was informed by his scientific background and commitment to combating climate change. Kelly has also traveled the country and been politically involved with his wife through their group Giffords PAC, which supports candidates who want to combat gun violence. Giffords was seriously wounded in a 2011 shooting at a constituent event in Tucson that left six people dead and 13 others injured. 

Arizona will likely be one of the most competitive races of the cycle. Sinema won last year by 2 points in the traditionally Republican state that appears to be trending Democratic. President Donald Trump won Arizona by less than 4 points in 2016.

Democrats are already targeting McSally, with the DSCC releasing statements tying her to the ongoing partial government shutdown. The committee also released a digital video when she was sworn in, saying she was “Washington’s senator, not Arizona’s.”  

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Arizona Senate race a Toss-up.

Watch: Bush, Obama Eulogize Former Political Rival and Friend, John McCain

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