Mark Kelly Becoming A Strong Challenger To Martha McSally In Arizona

Former Astronaut Mark Kelly is posing a big challenge to Senator Martha McSally in Arizona.

The threat to Martha McSally’s Senate seat in Arizona appears to be growing, with the latest evidence being a very successful fundraising quarter for likely Democratic nominee Mark Kelly:

Mark Kelly has more money in his Senate election war chest than Joe Biden does running for president.

The former astronaut, gun control activist and husband of Gabrielle Giffords has established a veritable cash gusher in Arizona, raising nearly $14 million this year, including $5.6 million in the last three months alone. Combined with his compelling biography, Kelly, a Democrat running for elected office for the first time, has laid the groundwork for a serious bid to unseat GOP Sen. Martha McSally in a critical battleground for Senate control.

McSally, who was appointed to the Senate after losing the race for the state’s other seat in 2018, has posted impressive fundraising in the off year, too, outraising all but two Republican senators in the most recent fundraising period. But Kelly has nonetheless stretched his advantage, with $9.5 million in the bank as of Sept. 30, compared with $5.6 million for McSally.

“I think those numbers speak for themselves. Good grief,” said Jim Pederson, a former state Democratic Party chair who ran for Senate in 2006.

“The guy is a very personable, sharp guy. And he’s made a lot of friends nationwide, and I think he’s tapped into that network,” Pederson said, adding that Arizonans were “wrapped up into his enthusiasm.”

Republicans have taken notice as well.

“It’s not necessarily that Sen. McSally is doing poorly. It is that Mark Kelly is doing spectacularly,” said Paul Bentz, a Republican strategist in Arizona. “He’s doing above and beyond, I think, what anybody would have anticipated when it comes to fundraising.

“She has the power of incumbency, but he has definitely caught up on many, if not all, other campaign metrics,” Bentz added.

Several advantages have helped Kelly stockpile cash. Kelly was the first major Senate candidate to announce a bid, joining the race in February with built-in name ID and connections to donors through his work with a gun control organization he founded with Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in 2011. The national party has rallied behind Kelly, and he’s avoided even a whiff of a primary challenge.

Kelly has also invested in building a campaign to last. He has spent more than $700,000 on Facebook ads this year, which helps build a list of small-dollar donors that will benefit him down the road, according to data compiled by ACRONYM, a progressive digital organization. Last quarter, Kelly spent $1.9 million, with $420,000 of that earmarked for digital advertising and more than $640,000 for direct mail services, both designed to help raise new money.

In the third quarter, more than half of his money raised — $2.9 million — came in unitemized donations that are less than $200. He also raised nearly $1.3 million from donors who gave more than $1,000, including more than $667,000 from max-out donors.

“This campaign is powered by grassroots supporters who are chipping in what they can, when they can because they support Mark’s mission to be an independent voice for Arizona,” said Jacob Peters, a spokesperson for Kelly’s campaign.

The online money, in particular, is what has set Kelly apart early in the cycle.

“I think they’ve smartly rejected the dumb conventional wisdom out there that only super progressives can raise small dollars online,” said Andy Barr, a Democratic strategist who worked on the 2012 Arizona Senate race.

McSally, of course, was appointed to the Senate by Arizona’s Republican Governor after Jon Kyl announced his retirement at the end of last year. Kyl had been appointed in the wake of the death of the late John McCain but at the time he had stated that he likely would not hold the seat until the next election and would not stand for election to the seat. Shortly after McSally lost a closely fought race to Krysten Sinema last year, Kyl announced his retirement and McSally was appointed in his stead. The election coming up in 2020 is to fill the remainder of McCain’s term, which is set to expire after the 2022 election, meaning that whoever wins the Special Election will have to run for re-election two years later. Kelly, the former astronaut, and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords entered the race for the Democratic nomination in February and while he does face rivals for the nomination he is widely seen as the strongest candidate in that field.

Another factor that seems to be pointing in Kelly’s favor is the polling, which has been limited but nonetheless shown him with a slight lead over McSally in a head-to-head race. Obviously, it’s far too early to say how this race will turn out. With more than a year to go until Election Day, there are plenty of things that could happen that will influence the outcome of the race. That being said, it’s clear that Kelly, who appears to have taken quite naturally to the political role previously occupied by his wife Gabby Giffords, is a formidable candidate and that McSally will have her work cut for her if she is going to retain her seat. Additionally, Kelly, like Senator Kyrsten Sinema who narrowly defeated McSally in 2018, is basically a center-left “moderate” Democrat rather than a full-on progressive, something that makes him ideal for an increasingly purple state that is likely to be competitive at the Presidential level as well despite the fact that Trump won the state by roughly 90,000 votes.

This race is important, of course, because of the battle for control of the Senate we’re likely to see in 2020. As it stands, Democrats would need to flip at least three seats to win control of the Senate, and that would depend on them winning the Presidential race. If they don’t and Mike Pence remains Vice-President then they’d need a net pickup of four seats. Given the fact that Democrats are likely to lose Doug Jones’s seat in Alabama absent another massive error on the part of Republicans there, that means they have to win in states like Colorado, where the latest polls show Senator Cory Gardner losing badly to former Governor John Hickenlooper and Arizona. Even with those wins, and assuming the Alabama loss, they’d still need to win at least two or three other seats, and notwithstanding the fact that things are looking bad for President Trump that’s going to be easier said than done.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    Due to Trump, the Arizona, Iowa, Texas, and NC Senate seats are all suddenly not only in play, but leaning Dem. Of course, we’re stilll a year plus out, but a Senate takeover by the Dems is more and more likely.
    Maine and Colorado are already gone for the GOP.
    Doug Jones will probably lose in AL, but the Dems only need net three.

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  2. Kathy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Quite honestly, that’s what I’d expected to happen in 2016, alongside Trump losing by a landslide in the EC.

    I guess some people needed to see just how terrible a self-assured, know-nothing, lazy, corrupt, self-dealing, ignoramus who has to be the center of attention all the time, could really be.

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  3. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I guess some people needed to see just how terrible a self-assured, know-nothing, lazy, corrupt, self-dealing, ignoramus who has to be the center of attention all the time, could really be.

    More depressingly, the reality of Trump still isn’t enough for millions of voters to be willing to switch. It turns every theory of rational decision-making on its head.

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  4. EddieInCA says:

    @DrDaveT:

    More depressingly, the reality of Trump still isn’t enough for millions of voters to be willing to switch. It turns every theory of rational decision-making on its head

    .

    Sunk costs. They’re in too deep. If you read conservative media, you can see that many of the true believers KNOW he’s stupid, corrupt and flailing. BUT he’s theirs. To admit to themselves that the liberals were right about him means that liberals are right about THEM. They can’t go there. They’re too weak and have no self awareness.

    On top of all this you have conservative media, led by Fox, Hannity, Rush, Levin, etc, creating a complete alternative reality where Trump is perfect and the Press, FBI, CIA, US Generals, career diplomats, and Republican appointees are the real danger.

    It’s something I could’ve never imagined five years ago. But my eyes are open now and I know that a full 35% of our nation is racist, xenophobic, and stupid beyond words.

    For those people, “deplorable” was not a good enough word.

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  5. EddieInCA says:

    A new study just out from the Public Religion Research Institute sheds light on this dynamic in a remarkable way: It shows that rank-and-file Republicans who watch Fox are far more loyal to Trump than those who do not.
    The poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, finds that an astonishing 55 percent of Republicans who watch Fox News as their primary news source say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. By contrast, only 29 percent of Republicans who don’t cite Fox as their primary source say this.
    What’s more, 98 percent of Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing Trump — opposition that’s “essentially unanimous,” as PRRI puts it. By contrast, 90 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing him — which is overwhelmingly high, but suggests that among this group, at least, Trump could suffer losses on the margins as the inquiry turns up worse revelations.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/21/want-trump-removed-new-data-shows-that-fox-news-is-huge-obstacle/

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  6. charon says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Which came first, chicken or egg? Do they watch Fox because they are highly partisan, or does Fox watching cause partisanship? Or – ¿Porqué no los dos?

    My RWNJ brother has swiched from Fox to AONN, apparently Fox isn’t providing enough dishonesty.

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  7. Teve says:

    For those people, “deplorable” was not a good enough word.

    I favor ‘Stupid people with shitty values’ but it’s kinda wordy.

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  8. DrDaveT says:

    @EddieInCA:

    It shows that rank-and-file Republicans who watch Fox are far more loyal to Trump than those who do not.

    And yet, when I suggested that disinformation bubbles were probably as important as team identification in the polarization of current politics, I got a ton of pushback…

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: Two syllables per word makes your formulation easier to understand than the four syllable word.

    2
  10. Michael Cain says:

    An interesting question is going to be whether a Dem majority in the Senate translates into major legislation. Most of the Dem candidates to be the nominee are promising (or at least supporting) a lot: eg, Medicare for All and at least some parts of the Green New Deal. The commentariat at places like LG&M are looking for even more, like court packing.

    To take one of your observations on Kelly a bit farther, multiple Senators that will provide the Democrats with a majority are center-left moderates — more like Tester or Manchin or Bennett. It seems to me unlikely that Schumer (or even a new majority leader) will find majorities for having 11 seats on the SCOTUS, or single payer health care insurance, or a crash program to decarbonize US energy supplies. Not to mention that passing any of that legislation would have to start with using the “nuclear option” and doing away with the legislative filibuster.

    I managed to get one of my East Coast friends angry at me the other day when I pointed out that if the Dems win a Senate majority in 2020, it will be very much dependent on Mountain West states — most likely, two from Colorado, two from New Mexico, two from Nevada, one from Montana, and one from Arizona. And that those eight might have a very different view on some things that she thinks “Of course any Democrat will support this.”

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:
    M4A isn’t happening. They might get a public option, or Buttigieg’s Medicare for those who want it. But the Sanders-Warren agenda has zero chance, even if we eke out a bare majority. And bare is the very best we can hope for. Ditto free child care for all and free college.

    Whoever wins for the Democrats it’s going to be a version of an Obama restoration, not some socialist revolution. We’ll get some serious ethics laws and regs, cancel all of Trump’s bullshit, try desperately to re-hire all the talent who were fired or quit, income tax rates will go back to Obama era, we’ll spend more on science and climate change, return to status quo ante on immigration, a few other things, but I suspect that’s the bulk of it.

    The big, easy legislation should be a bipartisan ethics bill, one intended to make another Trump impossible.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Not to mention that passing any of that legislation would have to start with using the “nuclear option” and doing away with the legislative filibuster.

    I’ll make a prediction right now:

    If the Democrats get a majority in the Senate and the House and gain the presidency, then they will have to nuke the legislative filibuster. Not to pass their president’s signature legacy legislation, like Medicare for All, or the Green New Deal, but simply to pass any legislation at all.

    But maybe the new Senate majority leader, Schummer or someone else, might devise some kind of other rule to sneak in legislation some other way, not necessarily like in the budget reconciliation process.

    If the GOP loses their majorities, and the White House, they will blame it on Trump, and on the Democrats. “If the bastards had nominated a decent candidate instead of Hillary, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” So they won’t be in the mood to, you know, actually govern the country, when they can spite their enemy.

    I wonder if Louis Antoine de Saint-Just ever imagined that in a democracy no one would reign innocently, either.

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  13. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    If the Democrats get a majority in the Senate and the House and gain the presidency, then they will have to nuke the legislative filibuster.

    I admit that I made this same prediction about the Republicans four years ago. I didn’t think they would settle for a tax cut (reconciliation), judges, and the things that could be done by administrative rule rather than statute.

    1
  14. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Unlike the president, or even Trump, Senators get to stay years in their jobs after they make changes to the rules.

    But unlike the GOP, the Democrats will have a lot to fix. I seriously think Moscow Mitch could care less if Dennison gets a legacy or not, or even accomplishes anything of note while in office. The next president and Senate will have Trump’s mess to clean up, and will want to pass laws to limit the damage then next narcissistic ignoramus can do.

    Ideally the GOP should support them in some of this. In practice, not so much.

  15. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I seriously think Moscow Mitch could care less if Dennison gets a legacy or not, or even accomplishes anything of note while in office.

    To slightly vary the usual analysis, I think McConnell would be content for all of America to be living under highway overpasses roasting pigeons on coat-hangers over trash fires, so long as only Republicans get to hold the coat-hangers.

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