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Mark Kelly projected to win Senate race in Arizona

(NEW YORK) — Sen. Mark Kelly is projected to win reelection, ABC News reports, securing a full six-year term to the Senate after pitching himself as an independent-minded candidate with bipartisan success. Kelly cast his opponent, Republican Blake Masters who was backed by former President Donald Trump, as too extreme for Arizona.

With Kelly’s win, Democrats are closer to maintaining their slim majority in the Senate, and Arizona keeps its purple hue.

“Thank you to the people of Arizona for re-electing me to the United States Senate,” Kelly said in a release Friday, after a large drop of votes from Maricopa County in his favor. “From day one, this campaign has been about the many Arizonans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – who believe in working together to tackle the significant challenges we face. That’s exactly what I’ve done in my first two years in office and what I will continue to do for as long as I’m there.”

“It’s been one of the great honors of my life to serve as Arizona’s Senator,” he said. “I’m humbled by the trust our state has placed in me to continue this work.”

Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and Navy combat pilot, who is married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, ran a well-funded campaign with nearly $80 million fundraised to Masters’ $12 million. In a tranche of TV ads, the junior senator told Arizonans he’s focused on job creation, protecting abortion rights, and securing the southern border, supporting barriers on the southern border “when appropriate.” He said he stands up to President Joe Biden and Democrats “when they’re wrong.”

“I stand up for Arizona,” Kelly told ABC News on the stump. “When they’re making what I think is a poor decision, I tell them, and in some cases, I drop legislation to prevent them from doing the thing that is the mistake.”

He ran on legislative victories in the Senate, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS Act, and explained measures in the Inflation Reduction Act that would help Arizonans such as drought relief measures and capped prescription drugs costs for seniors.

Masters, a 36-year-old venture capitalist from Tucson backed by Trump and tech billionaire Peter Thiel, went after Kelly on loyalty to Biden, record-high border crossings, fentanyl deaths and inflation. With Trump’s endorsement in June, he had beat out five other Republican candidates in the August primary, but after swinging far-right to stand out in the bunch, Masters faced criticism for an apparent pivot, including changing his website to soften stances on key issues.

Kelly often used Masters’ words from the primary trail against him, arguing he would support a federal abortion ban, privatizing social security, and spread baseless doubts about American elections since he has alleged, without evidence, that the 2020 presidential race was corrupt.

“I think Trump won in 2020,” Masters said in a campaign ad last year. He changed that stance publicly during the Arizona Senate debate to say he hadn’t seen widespread voter fraud but believes “Trump would be in the White House today if big tech and big media and the FBI didn’t work together to put the thumb on the scale to get Joe Biden in there.”

Kelly warned, on the same debate stage, that the “wheels” could “come off our democracy” if candidates like Masters, who continue questioning the integrity of American elections, rose to power.

Kelly also argued that Masters would be beholden to Trump, who Arizonans notably rejected in 2020, though by his slimmest of losing margins. In the final days of Kelly’s campaign, he added into his stump speech a mention of a phone call Trump made to Masters after their Senate debate, when Trump told him he should’ve gone harder on the “rigged” election conspiracy theory. The scene aired in Tucker Carlson’s documentary’s “The Candidate: Blake Masters.”

Masters told supporters Thursday that he would “come back and win,” but seemed disappointed with vote drops as early as Election Night, seeing as he didn’t take the stage before supporters once.

Arizonans, ultimately, stuck with the incumbent.

“No matter how the rest of the results shake out, our government will remain closely divided with a lot more to do. That can feel daunting. But that’s democracy,” Kelly said Tuesday at a watch party in Tucson. “The way to solve these problems isn’t by pointing fingers and dividing people. It’s by listening and finding common ground.”

Kelly was first elected to the Senate in a special election in 2020, flipping the late Republican Sen. John McCain’s seat, and giving Democrats control of both of Arizona’s Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the fact that I am sitting in the former Senator John McCain’s Senate seat,” Kelly said Monday at a campaign event with Republicans. “Senator McCain’s legacy is one that we should all strive to live up to — because Arizona deserves nothing less than a leader committed to always putting country first.”

It’s a message of unity that clearly resonated with Arizona’s electorate, who also pride themselves on being willing to split a ticket. And it’s another blow to Trump’s ticket.

An outstanding race in Nevada and runoff in Georgia will now determine the balance of power in the Senate.

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