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Gabrielle Giffords's husband to run for McCain's old Senate seat

File photo of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, visiting Atomic Coffee in downtown Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., will run for the Senate seat from Arizona formerly held by John McCain, setting up a potentially competitive 2020 race in an increasingly purple state.

"My next mission... #FullSpeedAhead #ForArizona," Kelly said in a post on Twitter. He also posts a video featuring images of his wife right after an assassination attempt and pictures with his identical twin, who also became an astronaut.

"I care about people, I care about the state of Arizona, I care about this nation, so because of that, I've decided that I'm launching the campaign for the United States Senate," Kelly said in the video.

Kelly and his wife were thrust into the national consciousness on Jan. 8, 2011, when Giffords was the target of an assassination attempt at a meet-and-greet event with constituents outside a supermarket in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Giffords, who had just started her third term in the House, was shot in the head at point-blank range. The shooting spree left six dead -- including a member of Giffords's staff, a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl -- and 13 wounded.

Kelly, who has since joined his wife in advocating for stricter gun control laws, likely would be a strong candidate to try to flip the Senate seat to Democrats in a state where the party has had recent successes. His nomination probably would set up a general election showdown with Republican Rep. Martha McSally and could help improve the performance in Arizona of whomever Democrats nominate in the 2020 presidential race.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, announced Dec. 18 that he was appointing McSally to fill the vacancy created by the August death of McCain, a Republican icon who had held the seat since 1987. Former Sen. Jon Kyl, R, temporarily took the post after McCain's death.

McSally, a blunt-talking former Air Force combat pilot, ran unsuccessfully for Arizona's other Senate seat in November, losing narrowly to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally is a favorite of Senate leadership including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had urged her appointment.

This article was written by Kasia Klimasinska and Kathleen Hunter, reporters for The Washington Post.