PHOENIX (CN) – Retired astronaut Mark Kelly announced his run for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Senator John McCain of Arizona, becoming the first Democrat in the hunt to oust McCain’s Republican replacement in 2020.
Kelly, 54, rose to the national spotlight after he became an advocate for gun control measures in the wake of an assassination attempt on his wife, former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
If nominated, he will take on Senator Martha McSally, a Republican who was appointed to McCain’s seat by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in December. McSally, a former Air Force pilot, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in November in a race to fill former Senator Jeff Flake’s seat.
The 2020 special election will place a candidate to fill the remaining two years of McCain’s term. It will be followed by an election in 2022 for a full six-year term.
Democrats view the seat as up-for-grabs following McSally’s loss to Sinema and a changing political climate in Arizona, which used to be a Republican stronghold.
“I care about people. I care about the state of Arizona. I care about this nation,” Kelly said in a campaign announcement video posted Tuesday to his Twitter account. “So because of that, I’ve decided I’m launching a campaign for the United States Senate.”
The four-minute long video details Kelly’s life first as the son of two police officers, then as a Navy captain, an astronaut, and as Giffords’ husband. Kelly also flew combat missions during the Gulf War before becoming an astronaut alongside Scott Kelly, his twin brother.
“I learned a lot from being an astronaut, I learned a lot from being a pilot in the Navy, I learned a lot about solving problems from being an engineer,” he said. “But what I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people’s lives.”
Kelly listed affordable health care, the economy and climate change as policy issues his campaign will tackle.
While he did not address gun control, Giffords appeared throughout the video next to Kelly.
“You remember when you entered Congress for the first time?” Kelly asked Giffords. “You know, I thought then that I had the risky job. Turned out that you were the one who had the risky job.”
In January 2011, Giffords was shot in the head during a meet-and-greet event held by her office at a Tucson grocery store. The gunman gravely wounded Giffords and killed six others, including a federal judge.
The couple pushed Congress for years to enact gun control measures with little effect.
U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego of Phoenix is also considering a run for the seat. Gallego, a Marine combat veteran, said Tuesday he will announce his decision soon.