Just the Facts

Five Facts on the 2020 Arizona Senate Race

By Emma Petasis
February 13, 2019 | Blog

In November, Arizona will hold a special election to determine who will fill the rest of the 2017-2022 term that the late Sen. John McCain was elected to in 2016. The seat has been occupied by former Sen. Jon Kyl, who stepped down in 2018, and Sen. Martha McSally, who currently serves after her appointment to the position by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Here are five facts on this heavily anticipated  special election.

The incumbent, McSally, is used to tight races.

Sen. McSally is a former U.S. representative from the Grand Canyon state. In 2018 she was narrowly defeated in the election for the other Senate seat in Arizona, previously held by Sen. Jeff Flake. McSally lost to Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema, who garnered 49.7% of the vote as opposed to McSally’s 48%. Sinema also is a former Arizona representative. McSally also faced tough challengers in the 2018 Republican primary. McSally, an Air Force veteran, faced former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who challenged McCain in 2016 primary, and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who gained national attention after being pardoned by President Trump last year.

Former Astronaut Mark Kelly announced he will enter the race.

Kelly is a Navy veteran, former astronaut and space shuttle commander married to former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords. Kelly has been an outspoken advocate for stricter gun laws since his wife, Giffords, was shot and nearly killed in 2011 by a gunman at a public event.  In Kelly’s announcement video the candidate discussed health care, climate change, and an emphasis on “data and facts.” Kelly says in the video, “We’re going to need people together from all parts of the state and all walks of life.” Kelly also addressed his desire to break down division within the country, saying: “Partisanship and polarization and gerrymandering and corporate money have ruined our politics, and it’s divided us.” According to Politico, Kelly’s announcement is viewed as a big recruiting win for Democrats, who will be looking to flip the Senate seat blue in November.

Kelly is not the only Democrat eyeing the seat, as Arizona waits on whether Rep. Ruben Gallego decides to run.

Last year Gallego hinted at weighing a Senate run and expressed confidence in winning the primary. According to Roll Call, the congressmen told interviewers at a local coffee shop last year, “At the end of the day, I think we’re going to make a determination based on: Can we win? And can we make a difference for Arizona? And that’s it. I’m not really worried about a primary.” On Tuesday morning Gallego expressed continued interest in running, when he tweeted to followers: “I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m looking seriously at running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, and that hasn’t changed. I’ll be making a final decision and announcement soon.” This week the Latino Victory Fund and Democracy for America began rolling out ads in an effort to convince Gallego to run.

The 2020 Arizona Race reflects a larger trend in Arizona’s politics.

The year 2018 marked the beginning of a Democratic resurgence in what was once the Republican stronghold state of Arizona. Arizona Central reports that Sinema’s victory ended nine consecutive Senate losses for Democrats in Arizona. Congressionally, Democrats saw big wins there as well with five of nine seat victories in the U.S. House. Within the State Legislature, Democrats had their best campaign cycle since 1966, coming within two seats of the Republican-controlled statehouse. Despite big wins for Democrats, however, some political analysts are waiting until this upcoming election to determine whether Arizona will be cemented as a “purple” state. Tempe Pollster Mike O’Neill told AP, “It was a big year for Democrats in Arizona, but that does not make it a purple state … We really won’t know until 2020.”

Arizona is not the only race heating up, as 2020 is set to showcase multiple competitive Senate races.

Roll Call has rated Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner’s seat a tossup. Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins and North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis could also face tough competition for re-election; both of their races are ranked “Tilt Republican.” Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Democrat Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire could also see formidable challengers next year. Most recently, The Hill also reported that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with 2018 Kentucky congressional candidate Amy McGrath  (D-KY) this week, to discuss her as a potential challenger to Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Nationwide, eight Senate races will be occurring in competitive presidential states.

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