‘Full speed ahead’: Mark Kelly launches Senate bid at Phoenix rally

This is Mark Kelly’s first time running for public office. His wife, Gabby Giffords, represented Arizona’s 8th Congressional District for five years before she was gravely wounded in January 2011 at a public gathering near Tucson. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Mark Kelly drew on his experience as an astronaut several times during Sunday’s rally. He even poked fun at the flat earth conspiracy, which brought a chuckle from the crowd. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Gun control will be a large part of Mark Kelly’s campaign. His wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, was shot in a 2011 attack near Tucson. Since then, the couple have pushed to tighten gun laws. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Former astronaut Mark Kelly’s launch event for his U.S. Senate bid drew several hundred Democratic supporters, a curious Republican and even a candidate for Phoenix mayor Sunday.

Kelly stuck with the space theme, calling his campaign a “mission for Arizona.”

“If we don’t get our act together, Arizona is going to have more heat, more drought and less economic development,” Kelly said. “We’re in a fight for the future of our state and our country.”

Climate change, common sense gun laws and education, with an emphasis on science, were priorities the former Navy captain set for his policy agenda, calling for “cooperation and teamwork.”

Arizona resident and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Nils Lofgren kicked off the rally with his rendition of the national anthem, followed by brief introductions by Kelly campaign treasurer and Democratic state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, House Minority Whip, former Giffords page Emma McMahon, and Giffords herself.

“I think he’ll do really well with the issue of guns in America, which actually is the national emergency not the border,” Kelly supporter Kathy Emershad of Phoenix said. “I think the tide is starting to turn.”

Mike Rupp, a registered Republican, attended Mark Kelly’s campaign launch event at the Van Buren in downtown Phoenix. He hopes Kelly’s vision for the state will “Make America Think Again,” just as it says on his hat. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Mike Rupp, a registered Republican wearing a “Make America Think Again” hat, said he felt abandoned by his party and attended the rally because he was curious to hear what Kelly had to say about the issues.

“I don’t really know much of his stance on the issues and that’s why I’m here,” Rupp said. “I’m excited about the profile I see so far … I’m optimistic.”

Also on hand to show his support was Phoenix mayoral candidate Daniel Valenzuela who posed for a photo with Kelly and his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Tucson, after the event.

“I have always admired Gabby and Mark for their dedication to service and Arizona,” Valenzuela said in a tweet Sunday.

Kelly is running as a Democrat for the seat vacated by the late Sen. John McCain, currently filled by former Arizona representative Martha McSally, who was appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey in December.

However, the National Republican Senate Committee attacked Kelly in a tweet Sunday claiming he was previously a registered Republican in his home state of Texas in 2012. He responded “yes” to questions Sunday asking whether he was a Democrat.

“Kelly has been more interested in ‘resistance’ than securing our border, proving he’s just another obstructionist Democrat,” Republican National Committee Spokeswoman Renae Eze said in an email. “Arizonans deserve a leader who will take clear stances on issues important to them from day one and fight for their interests – not just another political bystander.”

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The RNC also encouraged people to use their politically space-themed Snapchat filter during his rally that read, “Mark Kelly’s failure to launch. Arizona, we have a problem.”

The filter did not appear to be live during the Phoenix campaign event.

In response to criticism and to close his speech, Kelly used his wife’s favorite quote, and his campaign slogan, from Rear Admiral David Farragut during the Civil War: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Kelly first announced his candidacy in a tweet Feb. 12 and currently has no challengers, as he is the first candidate to declare for the 2020 special election.

Rep Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said in a tweet the same day that he is seriously considering a run and would make a final decision soon. McSally is also expected to run to keep the office, but has not made an official announcement.

Video by Bryce Newberry/Cronkite News

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