PHOENIX (AP) - Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly urged Arizonans to let go of "conspiracies of the past" on Saturday, calling for unity a day after winning reelection to a crucial Senate seat.
The AP declared Kelly the winner after the release of results from a tranche of 75,000 ballots in Maricopa County made clear Masters could not make up his deficit.
Arizona was central to former President Donald Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory. Kelly pressed to move past false claims of a fraudulent election that have shaped the state’s politics for the past two years.
Kelly defeated Republican Blake Masters, who along with most of the rest of the GOP slate was endorsed by Trump after pushing the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
"After a long election, it can be tempting to remain focused on the things that divide us," Kelly said in a victory speech at a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix. "But we’ve seen the consequences that come when leaders refuse to accept the truth and focus more on conspiracies of the past than solving the challenges that we face today."
Kelly won after distancing himself from Biden and building an image as an independent lawmaker not beholden to his party. He cast himself in the mold of his predecessor, the late Republican John McCain, whose influence is still felt in Arizona politics four years after his death.
He said he remembers every day that he is sitting in the seat that McCain once held. Kelly was elected in a special election two years ago to finish McCain’s term. His victory this year gives him a full six years starting in January.
"Sen. McCain embodied everything it was to be a leader at a time when our state and our country remain divided," Kelly said.
Kelly, a former NASA astronaut who’s flown in space four times, is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who inspired the nation with her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head during an assassination attempt in 2011 that killed six people and injured 13. Kelly and Giffords went on to co-found a gun safety advocacy group.
Giffords, whose own promising political career was cut short by the shooting, sang along to the music as Kelly was introduced Saturday and stood next to him beaming as he spoke.
Kelly and Giffords were at an Elton John concert in Phoenix on Friday night when they learned The Associated Press and other news organizations had called the race.
Biden, who is traveling in Asia, called Kelly to congratulate him, the White House said.
Kelly’s victory put Democrats one win away from clinching control of the chamber for the next two years of Biden’s presidency.
With Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, Democrats can retain control of the Senate by winning either the Nevada race, which remains too early to call, or next month’s runoff in Georgia. Republicans now must win both those races to take the majority.
Masters concedes days after Kelly's speech; "There is no path forward in my race"
Initially, Masters did not concede, saying in a statement that his team will make sure every legal vote is counted.
"If, at the end, Senator Kelly has more of them than I do, then I will congratulate him on a hard-fought victory," Masters said. "But voters decide, not the media; let’s count the votes."
On Nov. 15, however, Masters posted on his Twitter that he has called Kelly to congratulate him.
The statement reads:
"I called and congratulated Mark Kelly this morning. There were obviously a lot of problems with this election, but there is no path forward in my race.
To the thousands of people who helped on my campaign, who made calls, knocked doors, wrote postcards, donated, and hosted events - thank you. To every patriot who voted - thank you. And I especially want to thank my incredible wife Catherine, my parents, and my boys. The campaign trail is not easy for families.
We cannot afford to have another election cycle like these midterms.
Republicans are the underdogs now. I was outspent by over $70 million. That's what happens when you take on the national Democrat machine, the media, the universities, Big Tech, and woke corporations.
So Republicans need to start thinking like underdogs. No more consultant one-size-fits-all strategies. We have to build on what works, scrap what doesn't. The vast majority of people agree this country is headed in the wrong direction - we have to reach them.
I believe in Arizona and I believe in America. We can still save our home. We just have to fight harder and smarter... because we're running out of time."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.