U.S. Senate: Mark Kelly outspends, outpolls opponent in race to keep seat

Mark Kelly (Photo courtesy of the Mark Kelly campaign)

Candidate name: Mark Kelly
Political affiliation: Democrat
Position sought: U.S. Senate
Age: 58
Career: Navy pilot, NASA astronaut, U.S. senator
Website: markkelly.com

Incumbent Mark Kelly appears to have an edge in his race against Blake Masters, a venture capitalist endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

In a late-September poll conducted by Suffolk University and The Arizona Republic, Kelly was leading among likely voters, 49% to 42% over Masters, with 7% undecided. Early voting begins Oct. 12.

The race is being closely watched nationally as it could determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.

Kelly had raised a little more than $54.1 million for his campaign as of July, while Masters had raised about $5 million. Libertarian Party candidate Mark Victor, who also is on the ballot, raised about $129,000.

Kelly was elected to the Senate in a 2020 special election, defeating Republican incumbent Martha McSally to become the first Democrat to hold the seat in 58 years.

A former astronaut, Kelly flew combat missions for the Navy during Operation Desert Storm. He is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered severe brain injury after being shot outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011. Kelly is co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a nonprofit and super PAC that advocates for stricter gun laws.

In an October debate aired on Arizona PBS, Kelly called the U.S.-Mexico border “a mess” and criticized the Biden’s administration’s border policies. He said abortion should be a personal decision but would support federal legislation banning it after 15 weeks gestation.

Kelly declined an interview for a Cronkite News story, but his office provided written responses to questions.

Q: Why are you interested in this job?

“I bring a different set of experiences to Washington, and in the last two years, I’ve proven that my background and approach can help deliver results for my state. I’ve worked to lower costs, drive down prescription drug prices, create good-paying manufacturing jobs, improve our roads, bridges and other key parts of our infrastructure, and get our economy back on track,” he said in the written response.

“We have to address the rising costs that Arizonans are feeling at the grocery store and at the gas pump. We need to make sure women have the right to get an abortion. We have to build a future economy that works for everyone, not just corporations.”

Q: What in your past work, political or volunteer experience makes you the best candidate?

“No matter who you’re flying with in combat or orbiting the Earth with, the focus should be on solving problems to complete the mission,” he said.

The recent birth of a grandchild has given him an added perspective on the job, Kelly said.

“Every day I think about the Arizona that my granddaughter will grow up in. And how important it is that I do everything I can to make sure she has all the opportunities she needs to succeed, from a good public education to a thriving economy, to a secure retirement.”

Q: What are the major issues facing Arizona?

Kelly said that during his travels across Arizona, he has heard from many residents who are struggling with high prices for gasoline, groceries and prescription drugs.

“Seniors have to choose between buying groceries and filling their prescriptions. That’s just wrong, and so I’ve been working to change it.”

He said he’s also been hearing from women and abortion providers about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing states to enforce their own laws.

“I believe in a woman’s right to get an abortion, and I trust women to make their own health care decisions with their doctor. And while my opponent believes in a national abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest, I will always stand up for this right.”

In a debate aired on Arizona PBS, Kelly said, “Blake Masters has called abortion demonic, a religious sacrifice, he’s even said that he wants to punish the doctors. He wants a national abortion ban that’s so strict that even in the case when a women is raped, she will not have the option to make this decision.
“I think we all know guys like this, guys that think they know better than everyone about everything. You think you know better than women and doctors about abortion.”

Kelly is a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify almost 50 years of precedent for abortion protections under Roe v. Wade.

He’s also concerned about security along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he said Washington has not done enough to address.

“I stood up to the administration when they tried to lift border restrictions without a plan and secured funding for more Border Patrol staff and technology as well as funding to upgrade ports of entry to help stem drug smuggling.”

He also said he has successfully pushed the Biden administration to close some gaps in border fences near Yuma.

Q: What will be your top priorities if elected?

Economic issues, the ongoing drought and “ensuring Washington works for the people it represents – not wealthy corporations.”

On the economy, he cited his leadership in the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, which will boost American semiconductor research, development and production. The Biden administration has said the legislation could spur the creation of nearly 650,000 jobs and bring down costs for consumer goods.

“Now we’re working to make sure Arizonans get the skills to work these jobs, many of which don’t require a four-year degree.”

Kelly also supported the Inflation Reduction Act, which allows Medicare to negotiate for the first time to lower the price of certain prescription drugs. He said he will continue to advocate for capping the cost of insulin at $35 per month for diabetics, a provision that was removed from the act to secure its passage.

He said he introduced legislation to cut the federal gas tax “to save Arizonans money at the pump. And I’ve pressured the oil companies profiting off this crisis to stop their unacceptable price gouging.”

Kelly’s other priority is “fixing the way Washington works.”

“What I’ve learned from being in Washington is that outside influences – like dark money and corporate PACs – have too big a say on Capitol Hill.”

He said he keeps his assets in a blind trust and rejects corporate PAC money.

“I think if more of my colleagues followed these steps, we’d get a lot more done for the people we actually represent, so I’m working to make it mandatory for all senators.”

Q: What should be done, if anything, about border security?

Kelly said it’s “well past time to fix our broken immigration system to keep families together, provide for the workforce we need, and provide an earned pathway to citizenship for Dreamers who were brought here as children.”

But he also agrees with his opponents that the border is too porous. He said he introduced legislation to hire more Border Patrol agents and raise their pay, which he said “will finally make the Department of Homeland Security come up with a plan to handle increases in migration at the border, and provides funding to carry out that plan so these crises don’t continue to fall on Arizona communities.”

“We have to make sure border patrol agents and our border facilities have the resources they need to do their jobs.”

Q: How will you work to improve bipartisanship in politics?

Kelly said that his 25 years in the Navy and NASA have driven his approach to politics.

“I learned that the political party of the person sitting next to me didn’t matter. All that mattered was taking on the mission ahead and getting the job done for our country. Our government works best when Republicans and Democrats work together.”

He points to his work on the microchip bill as evidence that he can work across the aisle.

“I’ve always sought bipartisan solutions to the problems facing Arizona. I worked with Republicans and Democrats to find common ground and get it done.”

Q: Do you have any concerns regarding the security of our elections?

The 2020 presidential election was “free and fair.”

“It was certified by both Republicans and Democrats. Of course, we can always improve the way we do things, but I don’t conform to the idea that our elections aren’t secure.”

In the Arizona PBS debate, Kelly said, “These are conspiracies and lies that have no place in our democracy. You know, I’m worried about what’s going to happen here in this election and 2024. We could wind up in a situation where the wheels come off of our democracy, and it’s because of folks like Blake Masters that are questioning the integrity of an election.”

Q: What is a personal challenge you need to overcome?

More than a decade after the assassination attempt on his wife, he said, “Gabby inspires me every day with the determination she has to continue her recovery. She’s my best friend and we continue to have each other’s backs no matter what life throws at us.”

Q: Please share a quote or advice that you live by.

“Be bold; be courageous; be your best.”

Q: What should the state or federal government be doing to mitigate the ongoing drought and address Arizona’s water issues?

Kelly pushed other Southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River to contribute more toward water conservation after severe water restrictions were put in place this summer.

“Arizona has done more than our fair share, leading on water conservation and making the most significant offers to preserve water in Lake Mead,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. Other states like California need to step up and do their part.”