Democratic nominee Mark Kelly has consistently outpolled and raised more money than Republican Sen. Martha McSally.
Just two years after surprising the nation and electing its first Democratic senator in decades, Arizona is again leaning blue.
Democrat Mark Kelly opened a big lead Tuesday against Republican Sen. Martha McSally in early election results for an Arizona race that will be crucial in determining control of the US Senate.
Democrats are optimistic that Arizona’s changing demographics and President Donald Trump’s unpopularity among some suburban voters can push retired Kelly, a retired astronaut, to victory in Tuesday’s election. He is the husband of former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in an assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011.
Kelly led 55% to 45%, with 70% of the expected votes counted. The tally includes early votes cast through the weekend, and the race will likely tighten as officials tally Election Day votes, which are expected to favor Republicans.
An influx of new voters in the fast-growing suburbs of Phoenix and extensive get-out-the-vote effort in the Latino communities in Phoenix and Tucson helped put Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold, in play for Democrats. The trend accelerated with a shift away from the GOP among white suburban women who turned against Trump.
But it may take a while to get a solid answer as to who wins the seat—Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has said it may take election officials days to process ballots dropped off this week and add them to the count.
If Kelly secures the seat, he will be able to take office as soon as the state’s final results are certified on Nov. 30 since McSally was appointed, rather than elected.
A Kelly victory would give Democrats control of both of Arizona’s Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.
But no matter who wins, Arizona will have a senator from Tucson for the first time since Democrat Dennis DeConcini left office in 1995.
The winner of the race will finish out McCain’s term, which ends in January 2023.
As of Monday, more than 2.4 million Arizonans had already voted, with Democrats about 9,000 ballots ahead of Republicans.
The state has 4.28 million registered voters.
Two Years Ago
McSally lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in 2018 in a close race that took six days to call.
But McSally still ended up where she wanted to be—Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to the Senate after John McCain died of brain cancer that August.
McSally was a trailblazing woman in the US Air Force as the first woman to fly in combat and to lead a fighter squadron. More recently, she revealed a darker side of her military career, disclosing last year that she was raped by a superior officer.
Kelly flew combat missions for the Navy during Operation Desert Storm before becoming a test pilot and later an astronaut. He flew four missions to the International Space Station. After Giffords was shot, the couple founded a group that works to elect lawmakers who support gun-control.
A Tough Race
Both candidates shattered fundraising records for Arizona, raising more than $146 million between them, more than triple the combined spending on the 2018 McSally-Sinema race. Independent groups spent tens of millions more to sway voters.
That money flooded airwaves, websites, and mailboxes with ads.
Democrats portrayed Kelly as an independent thinker not beholden to either party. They slammed McSally’s votes to repeal the federal healthcare law, which they said would make it expensive, if not impossible, for people with pre-existing conditions to get healthcare coverage.
Kelly tried to tie McSally to President Donald Trump and his handling of the coronavirus.
Republicans presented McSally as a tough-minded fighter on behalf of Arizona residents. They targeted Kelly’s business ties to China, pointing to an investment from a Chinese firm in a business Kelly co-founded and alleging he would “do anything for a buck and say anything for a vote.”
McSally also tried to deflate Kelly’s independent image by linking him to left-wing members of his party, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. She warned that a Kelly victory could give Democrats control of the Senate and usher in liberal priorities such as Medicare for all and the Democratic Green New Deal climate plan, though Kelly has said he opposes both.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.