|Will Mark Kelly Inherit Political Career?|
|BY SHUSHANNAH WALSHE (@shushwalshe)||Feb 12, 2013, 6:45 PM|
The most dramatic moment of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night was when he said over and over victims of gun violence "deserve a vote" to thunderous applause.
"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," the president said as the camera panned to the former Arizona congresswoman, who is spearheading a new gun control push focused on universal background checks.
The man by her side Tuesday night and always, Giffords' husband former astronaut Mark Kelly, is her partner in the gun control fight, but now in Arizona he is also being seen as a possible new star who could inherit his wife's political career.
Jeff Rogers, a friend of Giffords and Kelly and former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, told ABC News that Kelly would be "an ideal candidate to take on John McCain's position in 2016."
McCain, who along with Giffords' successor Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), gave Kelly and Giffords his visitor pass for the State of the Union speech, will be 80 when he is up for reelection in 2016.
"There are few other people that would be such a formidable candidate," Rogers said, noting that he would also have his wife's political skills as an asset. "His wife has the greatest political mind in a generation in this state. Her smarts and his background and both of their courage coming out in this issue (of gun control)…I think it speaks well of them, putting themselves out there for sane reform of much needed reform of gun laws."
Rogers added that Kelly has been "putting himself out there a lot not just after the Connecticut massacre, but before then," and that he's been a public face in Tucson since the couple moved back in August. These moves make Rogers think it's possible he "would be interested in pursuing such a thing."
"I think the Senate is the most logical place for him," Rogers said.
Kelly, 48, has said that he is not interested in becoming a politician. "She's the politician in the family, I'm the space guy," he said in July 2011.
An aide said that Kelly is fully focused on his wife's recovery and running the newly created "super pac" to push gun control measures called Americans for Responsible Solutions.
The PAC has released its first ad where Giffords tells the nation to "take it from me, Congress must act. Let's get this done." The ad is targeting congressional lawmakers with an ad buy that reaches the districts of House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"His absolute priority besides his wife's continuing recovery and his children is to get Americans for Responsible Solutions growing every day and making progress for common sense solutions that will reduce gun violence," the aide to the super PAC said.
Although he may not be ready right now, it's clear Arizona Democrats would love to see Kelly enter politics. Future possibilities in Arizona could be the 2014 governor's race, or McCain's seat two years later. Kelly spent many years in Texas as well and that state could also be a possibility for him, but Arizona Democrats are hoping he makes a run for it in their state.
"We have a habit, I certainly do, of pounding down the door whether it be for school board, legislature, Congress, or Senate," Rogers said. "We actively recruit people who would be the best candidate…I think he knows if he were to express an interest all of us would rally around him very quickly because of our great love and respect for Gabby and our love for him as well."
An Arizona Democratic strategist with ties to Kelly and Giffords agreed that Kelly is very focused on the gun control issue, but noted for Kelly "this is not about one piece of legislation or one speech. He understands this is a long term process."
"So having said that, do I think he's interested in a run in the future?" the strategist asked. "I think it's on the list of things he's interested in particularly once his daughters are both in college."
"It's always exciting when you have someone who is well known, has access to money, and obviously the guy was an astronaut, a Navy fighter pilot. He's larger than life," the strategist said.
Andy Barr, a former Democratic operative in Arizona who still has close ties in the state said Kelly is "fully focused on Americans for Responsible Solutions" right now.
"It's a very ambitious effort they've undertaken and I think that's taking all up all of his time and energy," Barr, who is now a Democratic political operative in Washington D.C., said. "That said it's clearly a good sign of how effective he is and compelling he is that a lot of people want to see him run. If he wanted to do that he would be a very effective and strong candidate. Right now I understand from a lot of people who work with them he is fully focused on the effort."
"I haven't seen an indication from him that he wants to," Barr said, but added with his credentials Democrats in the state would be "lobbying him to do so."