Former astronaut Mark Kelly announces run for McCain Senate seat in Arizona

Former astronaut Mark Kelly announces run for McCain Senate seat in Arizona
In this Oct. 2, 2017, file photo former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., right, listens as her husband Mark Kelly, left, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kelly said Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, that he's running to finish John McCain's term in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

PHOENIX (AP) - Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who rocketed to the national spotlight when his congresswoman wife Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announced Tuesday he’s running to finish John McCain’s last term in the U.S. Senate.

Kelly, 54, is a top Democratic recruit to take on Republican Martha McSally in one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election.

McSally is a former Republican congresswoman who was appointed to McCain’s seat last year after she narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally leaned heavily on her record as the first woman to fly a combat mission as a fighter pilot, but she was hurt by her embrace of President Donald Trump.

If Kelly is nominated, the race would pit a Navy veteran and astronaut against a trailblazing Air Force pilot in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flyer who was famously shot down and held captive.

Democrats are eagerly watching the Arizona contest, having already defeated McSally in a Senate race just a few months ago.

Kelly and Giffords have for years pushed Congress to enact gun control measures with little success. They shifted their focus to state legislatures in recent years, helping to strengthen background checks and domestic violence protections, among other modest protections.

Giffords was severely wounded in a mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011. The shooting at a Giffords meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store in Tucson left six dead and 13 injured. Shooter Jared Loughner was sentenced to life in prison.

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