Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has won reelection in Arizona, edging out Republican Blake Masters in what was once seen as a strong pickup opportunity for the GOP.
Holding on to Kelly’s seat marks a key victory for Democrats in their quest to maintain control of the Senate.
Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of Gabby Giffords, came to Washington in 2020 after winning a special election to serve out the remaining term of the late Sen. John McCain (R). For months he led in the polls, but the race tightened substantially in the final days before Election Day.
Masters, a 36-year-old venture capitalist who spent most of his career working for billionaire Peter Thiel, ran an insurgent campaign with a focus on topics popular among the far right, including bashing critical race theory and Big Tech. An endorsement by former President Donald Trump helped Masters eke out a win in the GOP primary amid a crowded field of candidates.
But Masters’ libertarian-leaning record and far-right positions were viewed as a drag on his campaign. While some Republicans chose a more measured path, Masters declared his support for a national abortion ban in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of federal abortion rights this summer. And he continued to echo Trump’s false claims that Joe Biden lost the 2020 presidential election.
Nevertheless, Masters gained traction with voters concerned with high inflation and crime, which were some of the biggest themes in GOP ads this election cycle.
Kelly sought to blunt attacks over rising inflation and the high cost of living by touting his support of Democratic legislation lowering the cost of prescription drugs and highlighting his opponent’s past support for privatizing Social Security. He also put some daylight between himself and the leadership of the Democratic Party on the hot-button issue of immigration, calling the situation on the southern border a “mess” and “a chaos.”
Late in the race, Kelly was joined at a campaign event by several members of McCain’s family, underscoring his appeals to independent and Republican voters alike.
Still, Kelly was never a thorn in the side of his party as much as fellow Arizona Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema, who isn’t up for reelection until 2024. He embraced progressive priorities that Sinema opposed, including proposals that would have raised the minimum wage to $15 and reformed the Senate filibuster rules.
Kelly was one of the most popular Democratic Senate candidates this year ― at least when it comes to fundraising. He went into October with almost six times the amount of cash on hand as Masters, and he raised more than $52 million in total up until that point, while Masters had brought in just under $5 million. As a result, outside GOP groups were forced to step in and help bail out Masters.