Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Kelly won his re-election bid on Friday in the crucial state of Arizona, beating Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters to put his party within a win of control of the chamber for the next two years of the presidency of Joe Biden.
With Vice President Kamala Harris’ decisive vote, Democrats can retain control of the Senate by winning either the race in Nevada, which remains too early to call, or next month’s runoff in the state of Georgia. Republicans must now win both races to take a majority.
The Arizona race is one of the few contests targeted by Republicans in their bid to take control of the Senate 50-50. It was a test of the inroads Kelly and other Democrats have made in a state once reliably dominated by the GOP. Kelly’s victory suggests that Democratic success in Arizona was not an aberration during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The closely watched gubernatorial race between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake was too soon to be announced Friday night. In the race for Secretary of State, Democrat Adrian Fontes defeated Republican Mark Finchem, a leading denier in the 2020 election.
Kelly, a former NASA astronaut who has flown in space four times, is married to former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, who inspired the nation as she recovered from a gunshot wound to the head during a assassination attempt in 2011 that killed six people and injured 13. Kelly and Giffords went on to co-found a gun safety advocacy group.
Kelly and Giffords were at an Elton John concert in Phoenix on Friday night when the Associated Press called the race, campaign spokeswoman Sarah Guggenheimer said. Maricopa County reported a slew of results that increased Kelly’s lead and made it clear that Masters couldn’t make up the difference with the remaining ballots.
“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve as a senator from Arizona,” Kelly said in a statement. “I am honored by the trust our state has placed in me to continue this work.”
Kelly’s victory in a 2020 special election spurred by the death of Republican Senator John McCain gave Democrats both Arizona Senate seats for the first time in 70 years. The change was propelled by the state’s rapidly changing demographics and Trump’s unpopularity.
Kelly’s 2022 campaign has largely focused on his support for abortion rights, protecting Social Security, lowering drug prices and ensuring a stable water supply amid a drought. , which reduced Arizona’s cutting of the Colorado River.
With President Joe Biden struggling with low approval ratings, Kelly distanced himself from the president, particularly on border security, and downplayed his Democratic affiliation amid angst over the state of the economy.
He also presented himself as an independent ready to thwart his party, McCain-style.
Masters, a sidekick to billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, has tried to penetrate Kelly’s independent image, aligning it with Biden’s failure to secure the US-Mexico border and rein in runaway inflation.
Masters endeared himself to many GOP primary voters with his penchant for provocation and contrary thinking. He called for the privatization of Social Security, took a tough stance against abortion, and promoted a racist theory popular with white nationalists that Democrats seek to use immigration to replace white people in America.
But after emerging bruised from a contentious primary, Masters struggled to raise funds and was put on the defensive for his controversial positions.
He won Trump’s endorsement after claiming ‘Trump won in 2020’, but under pressure during a debate last month he admitted he hadn’t seen evidence the election had been rigged. Later, he doubled down on the false claim that Trump had won.
After the primary, he deleted some of his more controversial positions from his website, but that wasn’t enough for moderate voters who decided the election.