Democrat Mark Kelly flips a Senate seat in Arizona, ousting Republican incumbent Martha McSally

  • Democrat Mark Kelly has won a special election for the US Senate in Arizona against GOP incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, according to Decision Desk HQ.
  • McSally was appointed to serve in the Senate seat held by Sen. John McCain.
  • Kelly, a gun-control advocate and former astronaut, has pulled ahead in one of the most competitive Senate races for Democrats.
  • See the live coverage and full results from the US Senate elections.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Democrat Mark Kelly has won the election for the US Senate in Arizona against GOP incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, according to Decision Desk HQ. The race was a special election, so the winner will likely be sworn in on November 30.

The candidates

McSally, a former House Representative, ran for an open Senate seat to replace Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018 but lost to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Gov. Doug Ducey then appointed McSally to serve in the Senate seat held by Sen. John McCain, who died in office in 2018.

Shortly after McSally took office in January 2019, Kelly — a gun-control advocate and a former Navy captain and astronaut — announced that he would challenge her in 2020 as a Democrat.

Kelly cofounded the organisation now known as the Giffords Foundation with his wife, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and seriously injured while meeting with constituents in Tucson, in January 2011.

His campaign platform emphasised expanding access to affordable healthcare, building up Arizona’s economy, immigration reform, and protecting Social Security benefits for seniors.

McSally was one of the most talented fundraisers among the Republicans running for reelection this year, but she faced a climb to catch up to Kelly.

Kelly proved himself to be a formidable fundraiser right out of the gate, bringing in several million dollars per quarter. He raised an eye-popping $US38.8 million in 2020’s second quarter, compared to $US23 million for McSally.

The stakes

Arizona’s special election represented one of the most competitive Senate races for Democrats, who hoped to regain control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2015.

Thanks to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s strong performance among white, suburban, and senior voters, Arizona — once considered a Republican bastion — has become a toss-up state in the Electoral College.

After previously being rejected by the voters in 2018, McSally was in an increasingly precarious position vying for a full term in a year in which the electorate was expected to be far friendlier to Democrats.

In her short time in the Senate, McSally aligned herself closely with President Donald Trump. She voted with Trump 95% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

See Insider’s full guide to the race for the US Senate here.

The money race

Both candidates were prolific fundraisers, making Arizona one of the most expensive Senate contests this year. Kelly and McSally raised a combined total of more than $US144 million for their campaigns, not to mention the significant amount of outside spending in the race.

In 2020’s third fundraising quarter between June and September, Kelly brought in a stunning $US38.7 million and is set to report nearly $US19 million in cash on hand, his campaign announced, while McSally raised $US23 million.

Kelly — along with Jaime Harrison in South Carolina and Sara Gideon in Maine — was one of three Democratic Senate candidates to break a senatorial quarterly fundraising record previously set at $US38.1 million by Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in 2018.

In total, Kelly raised $US89.7 million, spent $US78.7 million, and had $US11 million in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records. McSally raised $US56.8 million this cycle, spent $US48.6 million, and had $US9 million in cash on hand.

Earlier in the fall, McSally was criticised for joking at an event that supporters should “fast a meal” to give money to her campaign.

See the live coverage and full results from the US presidential election.

What the polls said

Kelly led McSally by a margin of 4 percentage points or more in almost every nonpartisan poll conducted in 2020, according to FiveThirtyEight.

A poll from The New York Times and Siena College conducted October 26-30 found Kelly leading McSally by 7 points, 50% to 43%, among likely voters. A CNN/SSRS poll conducted October 23-30 found Kelly also ahead by 7 points, 52% to 45%, among Arizona likely voters.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted October 14-21 similarly found Kelly leading McSally by 8 points, 51% to 43%.

What the experts said

The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Centre for Politics both rated the race as “leans Democratic,” and Inside Elections rated it “tilts Democratic.”

According to FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast, Kelly had a 77% chance at defeating McSally in the November election. The forecast showed that Kelly was poised to receive 53% of the popular vote, 6% more than McSally.