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Former astronaut takes Senate seat previously held by John McCain

Mark Kelly is the husband of former Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Mark Kelly speaking at an election night event on Tuesday.
Mark Kelly speaking at an election night event on Tuesday.
Image: Ross D Franklin/AP/Press Association Images

RETIRED SPACE SHUTTLE commander Mark Kelly has won a US Senate seat in Arizona, defeating a Republican incumbent who succeeded John McCain.

Before his win was confirmed, Democrat Kelly (56) told supporters he was “confident that when the votes are counted, that we’re going to be successful in this mission”.

Kelly is the husband of former Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head in an assassination attempt during a constituent event in Tucson in 2011.

The former astronaut saw off a challenge from Senator Martha McSally, a trailblazing former fighter pilot.

McSally was aligned with President Donald Trump earlier this year but distanced herself from him in recent weeks in the southwestern state, where changing demographics and moderate conservatives’ frustrations with Trump helped Democrat Joe Biden win the state in the presidential race.

“The work starts now. And we desperately need Washington to work for Arizona,” Kelly told a small group of family and reporters gathered for his victory speech in Tucson.

“My top priority is making sure we have a plan to slow the spread of this virus, and then getting Arizona the resources our state needs right now.”

Screenshot 2020-11-06 at 17.53.23 Source: Associated Press

There were 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats up for election on Tuesday. Senators serve six-year terms and a third of the seats are up for reelection every two years.

Republicans held a 53-47 Senate majority prior to the election. As things stand, with 31 of 35 races called, the Republicans have 48 seats to the Democrats’ 46, while independents have two seats (51 is needed for a majority).

To date, Democrats have 210 seats to the Republicans’ 194; 218 seats are needed for a majority in the 435-member House. Members serve two-year terms.

Biden nearing victory

Democrat Joe Biden is on the brink of winning the White House after taking the lead in the potentially decisive state of Pennsylvania but Trump is showing no signs of being ready to concede and his campaign insisted the bitterly contested race is “not over”.

Pennsylvania, and its 20 electoral votes, would be enough to vault the 77-year-old Biden past the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College, which determines the presidency.

With tens of thousands of votes remaining to be counted in Pennsylvania, many from heavily Democratic areas, Biden opened up a 9,000-vote lead over the Republican incumbent, according to real-time state election results.

Biden currently has at least 253 electoral votes and is leading in three other states — Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — where ballots from Tuesday’s bitterly contested election continue to be counted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, welcomed what she called the “strong mandate” given to “President-elect Biden”. It is “a happy day for our country. Joe Biden is a unifier, because he is determined to bring people together,” Pelosi said.

While his reelection hopes may be fading, Trump is making it clear that he is not ready to accept defeat, launching unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud during an extraordinary White House appearance yesterday and claiming that he had actually won.

“This election is not over,” the Trump campaign’s general counsel Matt Morgan said after news of Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania broke.

“The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final,” Morgan said in a statement.

“Biden is relying on these states for his phony claim on the White House, but once the election is final, President Trump will be re-elected.”

Morgan alleged there had been “improperly cast” ballots in Georgia, where a recount is expected, and Nevada and claimed Republican vote-counting observers had been denied access in Pennsylvania.

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The Biden campaign fired back at the Trump campaign’s refusal to admit defeat with a statement tinged with sarcasm.

“As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election,” it said. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

© AFP 2020 with additional reporting from Press Association 

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