Martha McSally concedes Arizona Senate race to Mark Kelly

Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally has lost her bid to serve the remainder of late Sen. John McCain's term.

Democratic Senate candidate Kelly opened up a big lead on Nov. 3 against McSally in early election results, in a race that crucial in determining control of the U.S. Senate.

According to numbers released by state elections officials, Kelly obtained 51% of the votes cast, with McSally obtaining about 49% of votes cast. The Associated Press and FOX News declared Kelly as the winner of the race on Nov. 3.

On Nov. 13, McSally conceded, announcing that she called Kelly to congratulate him on winning the race.

"With nearly all the votes counted, I called Mark Kelly this morning to congratulate him on winning this race. I also offered support in his transition to ensure Arizonans are best served during this time. I wish him all the best," McSally said in a statement.

Democrats were optimistic that Arizona’s changing demographics and President Donald Trump’s unpopularity among some suburban voters can push Kelly, a retired astronaut, to victory in the election. He is the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in an assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011.

A Kelly victory gives Democrats control of both of Arizona’s Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years. Arizona will have a senator from Tucson for the first time since Democrat Dennis DeConcini left office in 1995.

Kelly will take office as early as Nov. 30, finishing the last two years of McCain’s term, and then facing reelection in 2022.

An influx of new voters in the fast-growing suburbs of Phoenix and extensive get-out-the-vote effort in the Latino communities in Phoenix and Tucson helped put Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold, in play for Democrats. The trend accelerated with a shift away from the GOP among white suburban women who turned against Trump.

The 2018 victory of Sinema, the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat in 30 years, illustrated the changing nature of the state.

MORE: 2020 Election Results

Kelly portrayed as independent thinker

In his first run for political office, Kelly positioned himself as a pragmatic centrist with no patience for Washington partisanship. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, he retreated to mostly online outreach, minimizing face-to-face campaigning while blasting McSally and President Donald Trump for allowing the pandemic to get out of control.

Kelly tried to tie McSally to President Donald Trump and his handling of the coronavirus.

Kelly flew combat missions for the Navy during Operation Desert Storm before becoming a test pilot and later an astronaut. He flew four missions to the International Space Station. After Giffords was shot, the couple founded a group that works to elect lawmakers who support gun control.

Kelly had a big fundraising advantage, outraising McSally by more than $30 million through Oct. 14. Both candidates shattered fundraising records for Arizona, raising more than $146 million between them, more than triple the combined spending on the 2018 McSally-Sinema race. Independent groups spent tens of millions more to sway voters.

That money flooded airwaves, websites and mailboxes with ads.

RELATED: Kelly raises $39 million, McSally $23 million in Arizona Senate race

Democrats portrayed Kelly as an independent thinker not beholden to either party. They slammed McSally’s votes to repeal the federal health care law, which they said would make it expensive, if not impossible, for people with pre-existing conditions to get health care coverage.

Earlier in the night on Nov. 3, Kelly all but declared victory, saying: “I’m confident that when all the votes are counted, we’re going to be successful in this mission.”

“The work starts now. And we desperately need Washington to work for Arizona,” Kelly told a small group of family and reporters in Tucson. “My top priority is making sure we have a plan to slow the spread of this virus, and then getting Arizona the resources our state needs right now.”

After his speech, Kelly clasped arms with Giffords and his two adult daughters as a massive screen behind him showed video feeds of supporters cheering from their living rooms.

Kelly flew four space shuttle missions and leaned heavily on his NASA background in campaign ads and speeches, but he’s perhaps best known in Arizona as the husband of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt during a constituent event in Tucson in 2011.

Giffords introduced Kelly when he launched his campaign, appeared in a television ad for him and joined him at events for supporters in the campaign’s closing days.

McSally presented as fighter for Arizonans

McSally was a trailblazing woman in the U.S. Air Force — the first woman to fly in combat and to lead a fighter squadron. More recently, she revealed a darker side of her military career, disclosing last year that she was raped by a superior officer.

Republicans presented McSally as a tough-minded fighter on behalf of Arizona residents. They targeted Kelly’s business ties to China, pointing to an investment from a Chinese firm in a business Kelly co-founded and alleging he would “do anything for a buck and say anything for a vote.”

McSally also tried to deflate Kelly’s independent image by linking him to left-wing members of his party, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. She warned that a Kelly victory could give Democrats control of the Senate and usher in liberal priorities such as Medicare for all and the Democratic Green New Deal climate plan, though Kelly has said he opposes both.

McSally also tried to deflate Kelly’s independent image by linking him to left-wing members of his party, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.

McSally did not speak publicly, nor did she concede.

“Hundreds of thousands of votes have still not been counted,” McSally’s spokeswoman, Caroline Anderegg, said in an email. “Every Arizonan deserves to have their voice heard and vote counted. We continue to monitor returns. The voters of Arizona decide this election, not media outlets.”

McSally was defeated in 2018 by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat in 30 years. After her defeat, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to McCain’s former seat in 2018.

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