After being shocked by tragedy and witnessing one of the more miraculous recovery stories in recent years, voters in Tucson, AZ chose to keep Rep. Gabby Giffords’ (D) seat blue Tuesday night.
Ron Barber, a former Giffords staffer, defeated Jesse Kelly, Giffords’ last Republican opponent, in a special election to fill Giffords seat after she resigned following a shooting that left her incapacitated and six dead in January, 2011. Overcoming a Republican lean in the AZ-08 district (registration is 38.4% Republican and 31.4% Democratic), the AP reported Tuesday that Barber won. He’ll now serve out the remainder of Giffords’ term.
Giffords, who’s still in the process of recovering after being shot point-blank in the head, was able to play a role in the race, campaigning with Barber in the run-up to election day. Democratic-supporting super PAC House Majority PAC seemed to refer to the tragedy in a television ad focused on Kelly that ran in the district, leading to criticism from the Republican. The PAC also ran ads highlighting what Democrats said were Kelly’s extreme views. And Kelly — who was the controversial tea party candidate in 2010 — was forced to defend his political postions in the race as well and Barber’s campaign said he ran on his own merits.
Indeed, Kelly’s positions on entitlements became a key part of the race. The Arizona Daily Star reported a month ago that Medicare and Social Security had “hijacked” the election, with Barber and Democrats suggesting that Kelly wanted to get rid of the programs. Kelly said he would maintain the programs for existing seniors.
Trying to predict the future based on special elections is a tricky business, but Democrats say the race hints at future entitlement messaging they say can help them put Republicans on the hot seat in the fall.
“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 DCCC chair Steve israel.
Republicans caution against finding any grand meaning in the race, saying it was more about Giffords than about the GOP.
“Special elections are unique, and the tragic turn of events that led to this one are no exception,” said Pete Sessions, chair of the NRCC.