WEST ORANGE, NJ — Former astronaut and U.S. Navy pilot Mark Kelly announced Feb. 12 that he will be running in the 2020 United States Senate race in Arizona. He will run as a Democrat, challenging Republican incumbent Martha McSally, who was appointed to the Senate by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey after the death of Sen. John McCain in 2018. Kelly is a native of West Orange from the West Orange High School Class of 1982.
In a video posted to his Facebook page, Kelly talked about his parents, who were both West Orange police officers, highlighting his mother in the video. Patricia Kelly was the first female officer in the WOPD and before that served as an Essex County prison guard.
“My parents taught my brother and I the value of hard work,” Kelly said in the video, referring to his twin brother Scott, also a former Navy pilot and astronaut. “I always knew that I was going to serve this country in some way.”
Kelly flew 39 combat missions in the Navy as part of Operation Desert Storm and became a NASA shuttle pilot in 1996. He has spent 54 days in space on four different flights.
Kelly is married to former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in Tucson while meeting with constituents outside a supermarket in 2011. Giffords and Kelly have since become gun control advocates. In the video, Kelly said that, during Giffords’ recovery, he learned how to be an advocate for those who could not speak up.
“I learned a lot from being an astronaut, I learned a lot from being a pilot in the Navy, I learned a lot about solving problems from being an engineer,” he said. “But what I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people’s lives.”
According to Kelly, each stage of his life has taught him the lessons he needs to be a good senator.
“I spent 25 years serving in the U.S. Navy and at NASA as an astronaut, and I come from a family of public servants. Both of my parents were cops, and my grandfathers served in WWII. When I met Gabby, I saw someone who took public service to a whole new level,” he told the West Orange Chronicle. “As a combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut, and engineer I bring a different type of approach and have different experiences working with people to solve really tough problems. Arizona deserves independent leadership, that’s why I’m running, and that’s why so many people seem to be excited about supporting this campaign.”
Kelly described the challenges Arizona faces ahead of the 2020 election, including access to affordable health care, job growth, the stagnation of wages and climate change.
“As the climate warms we’re going to have more drought here in the desert,” Kelly said. “Solving some of the hardest problems requires one thing, and that’s teamwork. I care about people. I care about the state of Arizona. I care about this nation. Because of that, I’m launching a campaign for the United States Senate. We’ve seen this retreat from science and data and facts, and if we don’t take these issues seriously, we can’t solve these problems.”
No other Democratic candidates in Arizona have announced their intention to run against Kelly, although U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, who currently representing Arizona’s 7th Congressional District, is expected to make an announcement soon. U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, who represents Arizona’s 9th Congressional District and is a former mayor of Phoenix, is also a potential candidate. Gallego stated on his Twitter that he might be running, and Democratic strategists have named both men as possible candidates.