Mark Kelly will win Arizona’s Senate race, NBC News projected Friday, flipping the second seat of the 2020 election for Democrats.
As of midday, Kelly had a lead of 3.4 percentage points over Republican Sen. Martha McSally, 51.7% to 48.3%, with 91% of the total votes counted. Kelly has won 1,600,332 votes thus far, an advantage of 103,133 votes over McSally, whose total stands at 1,497,199 votes.
The expected victory would make Arizona the third state where a Senate seat changes hands this year after Democrats won GOP-controlled Colorado and Republicans carried Democratic-held Alabama.
Both parties will have at least 47 seats entering the next Congress.
Kelly, 56, is a former Navy captain and astronaut, and he is married to former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived a gunshot to the head in 2011. Giffords went on to become a leader of the gun violence prevention movement.
McSally, 54, also has a military background, having served for more than 25 years in the Air Force, where she became the first woman to fly a fighter jet in combat.
Kelly maintained a lead over McSally in nearly every poll since he first entered the race, a reflection of what both Democratic and Republican strategists said was his overall strength as a candidate.
Kelly’s campaign also vastly out raised McSally’s, although both candidates brought in record-breaking sums for an Arizona political race. By Sept. 30, Kelly had raised a total of $82.8 million for his campaign, compared with $50.9 million by the McSally campaign.
Throughout his campaign, Kelly touted his political independence over any ties to the Democratic Party. After decades as an independent, in 2018 Kelly registered as a Democrat for the first time.
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) speaks at a Make America Great Again campaign rally on October 19, 2020 in Prescott, Arizona.
Caitlin O’Hara | Getty Images
McSally, meanwhile, fully embraced her party’s standard bearer: President Donald Trump. But Trump’s divisive record and his insistence that Republicans in Congress mirror his positions on every issue made it much more difficult for moderate Republicans this year to build winning coalitions of voters.
Arizona has a long record of electing moderate Republicans to statewide office, especially to the U.S. Senate. The late Sen. John McCain, whose seat McSally and Kelly are running to fill in a special election, represented Arizona in the Senate for more than 30 years before his death in 2018. The winner of the 2020 race could assume office as early as Nov. 30 when the results are certified.
But the political hue of Arizona has been shifting from red to purple in recent years, due in part to the growth in Hispanic voters. In the state’s largest county, Maricopa, 31% of residents are Latino and in the past four years, twice as many voters in Maricopa County have registered as Democrats than as Republicans.
Another factor influencing the state’s politics is a major influx of newcomers. Since 2016, the number of people who have moved to Arizona is estimated at 300,000, and fully a quarter of them hail from California, the nation’s most politically liberal state.