Battleground state senators typically slow down after winning a competitive race. But after two victories in a row, Mark Kelly is keeping his foot on the gas.
The Arizona Democrat is going all-out to help Senate Democrats keep their majority, traveling across the country to aid vulnerable colleagues. He raised $89 million for his own reelection campaign in 2022 (just two years after his first race), won both and is now trying to help his colleagues keep the majority for a third straight cycle.
“I’m not a take it easy kind of person,” he said in an interview Monday about his travels. “I’m gonna work really hard to do my part to [keep the Senate and the presidency]. And if that means traveling around, multiple times to a bunch of different states? Yeah, I’m gonna do that.”
Kelly visited two critical must-win battlegrounds over the weekend, helping raise six figures apiece for Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). In three days, he visited Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, doing nine events.
To date, Kelly has raised or contributed more than $1.8 million for Democratic candidates and incumbents, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, since the start of the cycle. He’s doing events and contributing money for state parties in battlegrounds and has been to Montana, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin and Virginia this cycle.
That’s a lot for someone who does not run Senate Democrats’ campaign arm and is not in party leadership.
“Do I like it? Uh, I’m OK with it. I like flying the space shuttle. I like flying airplanes off of an aircraft carrier. I flew an F-16 A few months ago. I liked that. That was fun. I’m OK with this,” Kelly deadpanned when asked if he enjoys being an in-demand campaigner.
“I do enjoy getting out there. And meeting folks and helping my colleagues. I enjoy that part of it. But you know, it’s also time that I’m giving up with my grandkid.”
Democrats will need all the help they can get: They may have to run the table on their incumbents to keep the majority after Joe Manchin’s retirement.
Kelly is a disciplined campaigner, quick on his feet with few gaffes. His campaign strategy involved raising a lot of money and defining himself — and sometimes his opponents — before they know what hit them. He also found strategic ways to break with President Joe Biden.
After those tough races, he’s currently one of the better-known Senate Democrats. His biography as an astronaut, veteran and gun safety advocate married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is an asset as well.
So it’s a reasonable question: Does he aspire to lead the DSCC, join leadership or maybe even look at national office? “My goal right now is to make sure we hold on to the Senate,” Kelly answered. “And that Joe Biden gets reelected. That’s what I’m working on.”
Kelly’s political formula has been successful in Arizona, though it will be hard to replicate this cycle.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) has not announced her intentions on pursuing reelection. But if she runs, Sinema would find herself in a three-way race against 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego.
Kelly isn’t getting ahead of Sinema’s decision-making, but he’ll comfortably criticize Lake, who is backed by GOP leaders in Washington and unsuccessfully sought to overturn her 2022 election loss. He said that race won’t be easy but he believes his state does not “want the chaos politics.”
“Her race for governor and the aftermath, and what she has shown the people of Arizona of her character, and how she would govern? I just don’t see Arizonans electing her,” Kelly said. “We’re not a state that’s, I believe, going to be comfortable electing Kari Lake.”