Democrat Ron Barber, an aide to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, won a special election to fill the remaining term of the congresswoman who resigned after being shot in the head last year.
Barber, Giffords’ district director from 2007 through January, led Republican Jesse Kelly 52 percent to 45 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Arizona secretary of state’s website. Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis collected 2 percent of the vote.
“We say no to extreme politics,” Barber said in remarks prepared for delivery at a victory celebration in Tucson. “We say yes to working across party lines to secure a strong future for Arizona.”
The Republican-leaning 8th Congressional District elected Democrat Giffords to a third term in 2010 over Kelly, an Iraq war veteran. Giffords won by less than 2 percentage points, or 4,000 votes.
The election to fill the six months remaining in Giffords’s term is considered a test — following a contest on June 5 in which Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, beat back a recall attempt — of trends that may influence the race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“After Wisconsin, if Kelly wins, the Republicans are going to say, ‘The wind is at our back and this is a harbinger of what’s going to happen in the general election,’” Brint Milward, director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, said before the vote. “If Barber wins, the Democrats are going to say ’Wisconsin was an isolated case.’”
Social issues such as Social Security, Medicare, and healthcare reform, along with the economy, dominated the campaign. Arizona posted the nation’s eighth-highest foreclosure rate in April, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Unemployment, at 8.2 percent in April, was higher than the national rate of 8.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Giffords endorsed Barber, 66, who was injured in the Jan. 8, 2011, attack and still exhibits a dimple on his cheek from a gunshot wound. The shooting during a community meeting in Tucson left six people dead and sparked a national debate about the incivility of politics.
Barber raised more money than Kelly for most of the campaign, bringing in 37 percent more through May 23, or about $1.19 million to Kelly’s $756,173, according to the Washington- based Center for Responsive Politics.
Outside groups, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Campaign Committee, the pro-Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC, and the pro- Republican super PAC American Crossroads, poured more than $2.2 million into the race, according to documents on the center’s website.
The special election is for a term that lasts only through early January.
Both candidates are expected to start campaigning now for a full two-year term in a reconfigured district known as District 2. The primary is Aug. 28 with a Nov. 6 general election.
District boundaries, which currently cover about 9,000 square miles in southeast Arizona and include part of Tucson and a 114-mile border with Mexico, will remain largely the same. What will change is the composition of the electorate, with District 2 shifting a bit more toward Democrats, Milward said.
The current district leans Republican, with about 159,200 Republicans registered to vote, compared with 133,751 Democrats and 128,242 who filed as “other,” according to the secretary of state.
Arizona’s 8th Congressional District has long been viewed as competitive for both parties. A Republican held the seat for more than two decades before Giffords’s election in 2006.
With yesterday’s victory, Barber is well positioned, through a network of contacts nurtured during his five years as Giffords’s district director, to reach voters this fall, said Barry Dill, a Democratic consultant who contributed to Barber’s campaign.
“Gabby Giffords, in a large part because of Ron, was able to put together a very strong constituent service operation and Ron was the guy who ran that for her,” Dill said before the vote.
Both candidates are expected to compete in the August primary election. Kelly, 30, is set to face political newcomer Mark Koskiniemi, who works for Pima County government, and Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, in the Republican primary.
Barber faces state Rep. Matt Heinz, a physician, in the Democratic contest.
Virginia, Maine, Nevada
The landscape for some of November’s Senate races took shape in primaries in Virginia, Maine, and Nevada. All three general-election races are potentially close and could be crucial in determining whether Democrats retain their Senate majority.
In Virginia, Republican George Allen won the chance to try to regain the seat he lost six years ago. Allen defeated three primary opponents, including Jamie Radtke, a former chairwoman of the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots.
The victory by Allen, who also served as Virginia’s governor, sets up a November matchup with another ex-governor and the one-time head of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine. Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat who isn’t seeking re-election this year, in 2006 ousted Allen from the Senate after one term.
In Maine, Cynthia Dill won the Democratic nomination and Charles Summers was the Republican pick in the contest to replace retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, according to the Associated Press.
The primary winners will compete in a three-way race in November with Angus King, who served as governor for two terms as an independent and is running for the Senate under that label. King, though he has endorsed Obama’s re-election, hasn’t said which party he would align with if elected.
In Nevada, Dean Heller, appointed to the Senate last year after Republican John Ensign resigned his seat amid scandal, defeated a slate of lesser-known challengers in the Republican primary.
His Democratic challenger is Rep. Shelley Berkley, who won her party’s primary against four opponents. Berkley’s House district is centered in Las Vegas.
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