Arizona voters on Tuesday rejected GOP Sen. Martha McSally for the second time in two years and picked former astronaut and prominent gun control advocate Mark Kelly to represent them in the U.S. Senate, according to an Associated Press projection.
McSally, 54, was considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in a state that has trended blue in recent years because of its increasingly ethnically diverse electorate. The Air Force veteran and former pilot lost her first bid for Senate in 2018 against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey then appointed her to the Senate seat vacated by the late GOP Sen. John McCain.
Kelly, 56, ran as a center-left candidate and outsider. His wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), was shot in the head during a mass shooting in 2011 that left six people dead. The couple founded and help run a gun safety group that donates to congressional candidates who support gun control measures.
Democrats repeated their successful 2018 playbook against McSally by attacking her over her 2017 vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including regulations that block insurers from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions.
In a closed-door meeting on the day of the vote, McSally reportedly stood up and told colleagues that it was time to get this “fucking thing” done.
The Arizona Republican claimed she would “always protect” people with preexisting conditions despite her record voting against them. She cited a bill she co-sponsored with other vulnerable GOP senators designed to give them political cover on the issue ahead of the November election. But experts said the bill included various loopholes that, if enacted into law, would still allow insurers to exclude people with preexisting conditions.
Meanwhile, McSally and national Republicans portrayed Kelly as a radical leftist with ties to China, questioning his business dealings and investments in the country. The attack never really stuck, with Kelly leading comfortably in polls throughout the campaign.
It also ignored the fact that GOP standard-bearer President Donald Trump has substantial business ties with China, including an undisclosed Chinese bank account and years pursuing business projects in the country.
McSally’s strained relationship with Trump was also an issue in the race. After opposing him during the 2016 elections, the GOP senator enthusiastically embraced his agenda, including his tax cuts, border security policy, Supreme Court nominees and efforts to repeal Obamacare.
During a debate with Kelly last month, however, McSally avoided saying whether she supported Trump when asked point-blank by a moderator.
“I’m proud to be fighting for Arizona every single day,” she said evasively.
Trump allies viewed McSally skeptically, citing her loss to Sinema in 2018 as evidence of her weakness as a candidate. Even the president appeared to grow impatient with her in the waning days of the race, denying her a chance to speak at a rally in her state. At another campaign stop, Trump gave her only a minute to address his supporters.
“Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick. You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let’s go,” Trump said.
Kelly called Trump’s treatment of McSally “unfortunate.”
“The president of the United States should have respect for an Arizona senator,” Kelly told MSNBC.
Kelly had a huge fundraising advantage over McSally in the race, part of a green tsunami boosting Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate. In his final campaign disclosure, the Democrat said he raised $16 million more than the Republican incumbent.