Mark Kelly, co-founder of gun control group Giffords PAC, seeks to unseat McSally in Arizona

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Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband, retired Navy combat veteran and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) who retired after surviving an assassination attempt in 2011, announced on Tuesday he will challenge Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) for John McCain’s old Senate seat.

Kelly, along with Giffords, runs the major gun control-focused group Giffords PAC, which between its hybrid PAC and 501(c)(4) nonprofit Giffords, spent nearly $7 million to aid Democratic congressional candidates in 2018.

In January, Kelly was the target of a draft campaign by the 314 Action Fund, a science-oriented hybrid PAC. Kelly has long been sought after by Democratic strategists and McSally is considered vulnerable following her loss to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in 2018.

McSally was the number two recipient of contributions from gun rights groups in the 2018 cycle, taking $232,443 between individuals and PACs. The NRA has spent almost $300,000 to McSally’s benefit over the course of her congressional career, according to data from The Center for Responsive Politics. Naturally, Giffords PAC has spent large sums opposing McSally in the past.

The group (then called Americans for Responsible Solutions) spent more than $2 million supporting incumbent Rep. Ron Barber against McSally in 2014. Barber, a former district director for Giffords who was shot and injured during the 2011 shooting, took over Giffords’ seat after her retirement.

Giffords PAC focuses its efforts on the most gun-friendly Republicans, helping take down Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) with with $2 million in opposition spending and Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) with a $1.2 million ad buy. Each of Giffords’ top four opposed candidates lost their election in 2018.

In addition to making independent expenditures, the hybrid PAC contributed $263,965 to federal candidates, predominantly Democrats, during the 2018 midterms. The Giffords organization also has a lobbying presence, spending $430,000 in 2018, lobbying mostly on gun control legislation.  

The largest donor to Giffords PAC in the 2018 cycle was Fred Wright, father of one of the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting. Wright contributed $200,000 to the PAC.

In a video announcing his candidacy, Kelly speaks passionately about helping Giffords recover from the shooting.

“You know, I thought then that I had the risky job,” Kelly says to Giffords about being an astronaut. “Turned out, that you were the one that had the risky job.”

On his campaign website, Kelly doesn’t get deep into policy, but says he won’t take corporate PAC money, joining a long list of Democrats swearing off the corporate contributions.

“This campaign is about the people of Arizona, not corporate PACs and the mess they’ve created in Washington,” he says on the site.

A request for comment from the Giffords PAC on Kelly’s involvement with the group going forward did not receive a reply by press time.  

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