PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- Mark Kelly, retired astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, announced Tuesday his intent to run for 2020 U.S. Senate in Arizona.

Kelly said his next mission is for Arizona in an announcement video posted to his website and social media.

The 54-year-old served in the U.S. Navy as a combat pilot and engineer.

He will compete in the Democratic primary and if successful, face off against Republican Martha McSally in a 2020 special election.

McSally is finishing out the term of late Sen. John McCain who died following a year-long battle with glioblastoma. She was appointed to the seat late last year by Gov. Doug Ducey after losing to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

The winner of the 2020 race would face re-election in 2022 for a full six-year term.

Kelly described himself as an independent-minded centrist who will take a scientist's data-driven approach to solving problems such as climate change, wage stagnation and health care affordability.

"You see a lot of partisanship in Washington and a lot of polarization, and to some extent we've created that," Kelly told The Associated Press. "It's going to take people who are more independent to fix it. Arizonans value independence."

Kelly decried politicians who "ignore data and facts and in some cases don't even believe in science," but did not take on Trump directly, saying he's "not going to focus on the presidency or the White House." 

Kelly is a firm believer in gun control legislation, co-founding the gun-control organization Americans for Responsible Solutions with Giffords in 2013. Kelly and Giffords have pushed Congress to enact gun control measures with little success. They shifted their focus to state legislatures in recent years, helping to strengthen background checks and domestic violence protections, among other modest protections.

Giffords was severely wounded in a mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011. The shooting at a Giffords meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store in Tucson left six dead and 13 injured. Shooter Jared Loughner was sentenced to life in prison.

Giffords played a prominent role in the four-minute video Tuesday launching Kelly's campaign.

"I thought then that I had the risky job," Kelly says to Giffords. "Turned out, you were the one that had the risky job."

Kelly told the AP Giffords, who has been a rising Democratic star before the shooting, will join him frequently during campaign appearances.

Arizona has been a longstanding Republican stronghold, but a growing Latino population and frustration among women with Trump have helped Democrats make inroads.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix is also considering a Senate run, which would likely set up a tough fight for the Democratic nomination.

"I've made no secret of the fact that I'm looking seriously at running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, and that hasn't changed," Gallego said on Twitter following Kelly's announcement. "I'll be making a final decision and announcement soon."

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a lifelong Republican who became a Democrat and a fierce critic of Trump, announced last week that he won’t run, saying he didn’t want to fight in a contested Democratic primary.

Democrats are eagerly watching the Arizona contest, having already defeated McSally. The party is also gauging whether Arizona could be competitive at the presidential level in 2020 after Trump won by 4 percentage points in 2016.

Kelly has never held elected office. He flew combat missions during the first Gulf War and was a Navy test pilot before becoming an astronaut along with his twin brother, Scott Kelly. He flew four space missions over 10 years and commanded the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2011.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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