PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly has been struggling to hold the seat he won for Democrats two years ago, but he faced an outright defeat of Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters ahead of Tuesday’s election to other political environments.
Kelly’s victory in the 2020 special election gave Democrats both seats in the Arizona Senate for the first time in 70 years. It was fueled by the state’s rapidly changing demographics and the unpopularity of then-President Donald Trump.
This time, the unpopular President Joe Biden comes from Kelly’s own party, and the environment is less favorable for the Democrats.
The Arizona race is one of a few contests Republicans have targeted to take control of today’s 50-50 Senate. It’s a test of the progress Kelly and other Democrats have made in a state once reliably Republican-dominated, and will provide clues as to whether Democratic success here was an aberration during the Trump presidency or an enduring phenomenon.
Kelly has distanced himself from Biden, particularly on border security, and downplays his Democratic affiliation. Masters emerged injured from the controversial Republican primary and struggled to raise funds, but polls suggest the race is close nonetheless.
Kelly’s political identity is defined by two parts of his biography. As a NASA astronaut, he flew into space four times. And he’s married to former US Rep. Gabby Giffords, who inspired the nation with her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head. The shooting during a 2011 inaugural event in Tucson killed six people and injured 13. Kelly and Giffords later co-founded a gun control advocacy group.
Kelly’s campaign focused primarily on his support for abortion rights, protecting Social Security, lowering drug prices and ensuring a stable water supply amid a drought that has restricted Arizona’s Colorado River water supply.
He has styled himself as an independent ready to defy his party, in the style of Republican US Senator John McCain, whose death led to the special election that Kelly won in 2020.
“I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats to bring manufacturing jobs back to America — or better yet, Arizona. To cut costs,” Kelly said Monday. “And I’ve been working across the aisle improving infrastructure, repairing our roads, bridges and ports of entry.”
Masters has sought to penetrate Kelly’s independent image and reconcile it with Biden’s failure to secure the US-Mexico border and curb rampant inflation.
“Mark Kelly is not John McCain. He’s not even a Krysten Sinema,” Masters said at a campaign rally last month, referring to Arizona’s senior senator who is known for political struggles with her Democrats. “He’s a stamp vote for Joe Biden’s agenda.”
Masters won Trump’s endorsement after claiming “Trump won 2020”. Under pressure during a debate last month, he admitted he had seen no evidence the election had been rigged, but later doubled down on the false claim that Trump won.
Masters, 36, worked most of his adult life for billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, who funded Masters’ first run but was stingier during the general election. Masters endeared himself to many GOP primary voters with his penchant for provocation and contrarian thinking. But he’s since struggled to redefine his image for the more moderate swing voters who will decide Tuesday’s election.
During the primary, Masters called for the privatization of Social Security, took a hardline anti-abortion stance, and championed a racist theory popular with white nationalists that Democrats are trying to use immigration to replace whites in America.
Masters later removed some controversial positions from its website.
According to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive poll of more than 3,200 Arizona voters, nearly half of Arizona voters say the economy and jobs are the country’s top issues. An overwhelming majority say inflation and rising prices for gas, food and other commodities are factors considering voting in this election.
In a state that has been the focus of disputes over voter fraud, 9 in 10 voters say the future of democracy in the US is a factor in their considerations about voting in this election. About 4 in 10 say this is the most important factor. A majority – 7 in 10 voters – say they are confident votes will be counted accurately in this year’s election.
The repeal of the Roe v. Wade through the US Supreme Court is a major factor for nearly 7 in 10 Arizona voters to consider running in this election. But only 1 in 10 say abortion is the country’s most important problem.
A slim majority of voters approve outgoing Governor Doug Ducey’s decision to send migrants seeking asylum in the US to the northern states of the Democratic Republic. A large majority – nearly 8 in 10 – support an increased law enforcement presence at the US-Mexico border.
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow AP’s election coverage of the 2022 election at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.
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