Arizona: Ex-aide wins special election to replace Gabrielle Giffords in Congress
Is Democrat Ron Barber’s win a harbinger for November or an isolated result?
A former aide who was among those wounded in a 2011 shooting attack on Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords won a special election Tuesday to fill her vacant seat in the House of Representatives.
Democrat Ron Barber’s victory in southeastern Arizona’s 8th congressional district comes less than six months after Giffords announced she would leave Congress to focus on her rehabilitation from a gunshot wound to the head. Barber will serve out the remaining six months of Giffords term, after which he must face reelection.
Barber, 66, defeated Republican candidate Jesse Kelly, a 30-year-old Iraq War veteran who ran against Giffords and lost narrowly in 2010. Barber beat Kelly 52-45 percent with all precincts reporting.
The race was seen as a test case of the arguments Democrats and Republicans will take to voters in swing districts in November.
Backed by national Republican groups, Kelly tied Barber to President Obama, who is unpopular in the district. A television ad sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee labeled Barber a “rubber stamp” for the president and his “failed policies.” Obama lost the district to his GOP opponent Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008.
Meanwhile, Barber and Democrats accused Kelly of wanting to end Medicare, seizing on a past comment that he wanted to privatize the health insurance program for seniors. Democrats hoped that message played with the sizable population of seniors in the 8th district.
Barber also seized the mantle of the centrist Giffords, who made a late campaign appearance alongside him last weekend.
“Ron will bring his independent-minded approach and strong commitment to rebuilding the middle class to Congress and build on Gabby’s legacy,” Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
Immigration and border security also played a key role in the contest, which was waged in a district shares that shares about a hundred miles of border with Mexico. Kelly voiced support for constructing a “double layered border fence” in an effort to halt drug smuggling and related violence. Barber does not support a fence, but wants to send more agents and technological assets to the border to beef up security.
In all, outside groups spent over $2 million dollars on the race.
Barber’s victory comes as a welcome relief for Obama, who was reeling from a week of bad headlines following a lackluster May jobs report, news that his reelection campaign was outraised by Republican Mitt Romney, and a failed Democratic effort to oust Wisconsin’s GOP governor.
Democrats touted the win as an indicator of what they can accomplish in toss-up regions in November. Barber’s win comes even though Republicans have won the 8th district in each of the last three presidential races and the GOP posses a 26,000 voter registration edge there.
“This campaign previewed the message fight that will play out across the country in November: Democrats committed to protecting the middle class, Social Security and Medicare versus misleading Republican attacks on Obamacare and national Democrats,” said Israel.
It also comes in a state that Democrats have targeted in the presidential race between Obama and Mitt Romney and in an open Senate seat race, which pits Democrat Richard Carmona against Republican Jeff Flake.
But victory for Democrats in Arizona could prove elusive in November. No Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since Bill Clinton in 1996. Latinos, a demographic group the party hopes to energize in order to win, has traditionally been dormant at the voting booths.