One of the more remarkable political shake-ups of the 2020 election cycle was that the Democratic Party managed to turn Arizona blue for the first time since 1996. President-Elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump by roughly 10,000 votes.
But the bigger story is that the Grand Canyon State is sending two Democrats to the United States Senate – freshman incumbent Kyrsten Sinema and former astronaut Mark Kelly, who defeated Republican incumbent Martha McSally in the November election – for the first time in nearly seven decades.
Kelly’s victory was a remarkable feat in crimson Arizona. He explained in an interview with the Arizona Republic on Friday that the gravity of what he accomplished struck him when he arrived at the US Capitol.
“I will say after 21 months of campaigning – campaigns are about reaching out to folks in places where they live and work throughout Arizona – it’s sort of abstract,” said Kelly, who amassed more votes than Biden. “And then within a week, I find myself sitting there on the Senate floor and that’s when it becomes just very, very real, that the election is over and now it’s time to get to work.”
Kelly’s seat was previously held by Republicans Barry Goldwater and John McCain, whom Kelly has identified as one of his heroes.
“I mean, this is John McCain, and somebody that I looked up to when I was a 22-year-old pilot in flight school,” Kelly told the Arizona Republic. “He was the example of how you serve your country under the most challenging circumstances. He was a hero of mine when I was young, and we often don’t get to meet our heroes. It’s also much less often that you eventually get to call them a friend and to be elected to his United States Senate seat, that – that’s a very big deal for me.”
Kelly has quite the résumé. A retired Navy fighter pilot and NASA astronaut, Kelly, 56, is the only American to fly in space along with a sibling. His identical twin brother, Scott, is a former NASA astronaut too.
Astronauts are some of the world’s most accomplished scientists – a profession whose expertise is desperately needed in elected government as we collectively grapple with the imminently concurrent COVID-19 and climate change crises.
Plus, is there a cooler job – anywhere – than being an astronaut?
Kelly is married to former Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who in 2006 was shot in the head in an assassination attempt. Incredibly, she survived, and her recovery has been nothing short of inspirational. In the years since, the Kellys have become outspoken proponents of gun control. That alone makes Kelly’s win in Arizona even more impressive.
As he builds his legislative bonafides in the Senate, Kelly, I predict, can and should be placed in the top-tier pool of potential Democratic vice presidential or presidential candidates in 2024 (should Biden opt to retire after one term) and 2028, respectively.
Finally, Kelly has no baggage.
Arizona’s Democratic Senator-Elect is a man to keep our collective eyes on, and he is just getting started.
Sixty-seven days until the inauguration.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.