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Political experts say Mark Kelly’s Senate run will challenge Republicans

Astronaut Mark Kelly (ret.) waves as he takes the stage to introduce his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz,, during the third day session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

PHOENIX — A number of political analysts say Mark Kelly’s announcement that he would seek the Democratic seat for U.S. Senate will pose a major challenge to Republicans.

Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on Tuesday became the first person to declare candidacy for the late U.S. Sen. John McCain’s seat in next year’s special election.

Copper State Consulting Group’s Stan Barnes told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Tuesday that Kelly is a good nominee because he is more moderate than other Democrats who are rumored to run for the seat, like U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego.

“Democrats can’t win statewide and run as Democrats. They certainly can’t run as California Democrats. They have to run as Arizonans,” Barnes said.

“And that’s Mark Kelly’s chief attribute, I think. I don’t think of him as a partisan person, and everyone loves an astronaut. So he starts out in a good spot.”

A source close to Gallego told KTAR News in January that he was “very interested” in running for Senate, and the Democratic congressman tweeted Tuesday that he would make an announcement soon.

In an interview with Arizona’s Morning News, political consultant Alex Castellanos pointed to Kelly’s history as a U.S. Navy captain as one of the most appealing aspects for voters.

Kelly’s “military record will help moderate him” and will help him “look less extreme” against the Democrats who are running for president, Castellanos said.

“It’s going to be tough for (U.S. Sen. Martha) McSally to deal with,” he added.

Another political analyst, Emily Ryan, said Kelly will be the candidate who will make the Republican party the “most nervous.

“He’s just got the credentials like we haven’t seen before. If he comes at it from an Arizona perspective, he will be a very scary candidate for Republicans to face,” she told KTAR News. 

While Kelly has been an outspoken gun control advocate since his wife survived an assassination attempt in Tucson in 2011, KTAR News‘ political analyst Mike O’Neil said he does not believe his position will hurt him with voters.

“The (National Rifle Association) will paint him as someone who wants to confiscate guns, which is not his position,” he said.

“As long as he keeps the issue to gun safety and reasonable regulation, he’s got a clear majority (of voters) with him.”

If Kelly were to win the seat, he would likely run against McSally, who was appointed to the seat in December after Jon Kyl stepped down.

But Barnes said that, while running for Senate, Kelly will have to deal with a whole new batch of criticisms and attacks that he has not seen during his time as a gun safety advocate.

“The test of these campaigns is real, and we’ll see if he has the mettle,” Barnes said.

“Being an astronaut proves you’ve got something special, but when it comes to taking those arrows in the public square and…putting up with the punches to the face that come at you, metaphorically, in this very tough environment is going to be a new experience for Mark Kelly,” he added.

“We’ll have to see what he does.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jeremy Foster and Jim Cross contributed to this report. 

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