Outside of a squat stucco house on the south side of Tucson, Senator Mark Kelly walks slowly toward a crowd of canvassers waiting to knock on doors in his name. He holds the arm of his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011 during a “Congress on Your Corner” event in which six people died and 13 were injured. Giffords’s steps are uneven but her smile is bright and she shakes the hands of volunteers eager to meet the hometown hero. Giffords, wearing a southwestern-style turquoise belt buckle and a Friends of Aphasia bracelet, beams at her husband’s supporters (though I suspect many of the gathered canvassers are just as much fans of hers). Kelly looks like the no-nonsense Navy veteran of 25 years that he is, in dark jeans, a plain black T-shirt, and black leather shoes. When he speaks to the assembled crowd, he keeps his left hand in his jeans pocket and gesticulates with his right, often pausing to stroke a nonexistent mustache on his clean-shaven face.
The front yard is decorated with hanging lights and signs for Democratic candidates in Arizona. The owner of the house thanks the couple profusely for coming and they thank her back. Though it’s 85 degrees outside, there’s a slight breeze that makes the day pass for Arizona fall. Outside the house stand two armed officers from the Pima County sheriff’s department. I overhear one of them saying, “I was so glad to get the call to come here for Gabby.”
Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, was originally elected to the US Senate in a special election for the late John McCain’s seat, after his death from cancer in 2018. Republican Martha McSally was appointed by the state’s Republican governor to temporarily fill the seat, but lost to Kelly in the 2020 general election, helping Democrats regain control of the Senate. As such, Kelly served the remainder of McCain’s term and faces reelection after just two years instead of six. Now, Kelly is in a race against Republican Blake Masters that could again decide control of the Senate. Teen Vogue spoke with Kelly about the stakes of the midterms, why a single vote matters, and what he makes of his opponent’s publicly changing views on abortion. (The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Teen Vogue: With two Democratic senators, but a history of electing Republicans and a legacy of being the state of major Republican politicians Barry Goldwater and John McCain, there seems to be a fight within Arizona to answer the question: Are we a red state or a blue state? What do you think?
Mark Kelly: Well, first of all, I’m not sure who hands out the colors. Where is that office? I have not met those people. I’m less focused on whether it’s a Democrat or Republican in any seat and I’m more focused on getting people elected who will work across the aisle, as John McCain did. I’m in his Senate seat. He was another Navy pilot like me with a history of working with the other side on important issues. I’m not so big on the colors. People make [politics] out to be like a sport, but it shouldn’t be that way because this is really the future of our country. We want a healthy, strong, functioning democracy and there’s no guarantee that the democracy we have today is what the future will look like.