Although voters will be choosing nominees from both major parties in five states Tuesday, the race that is sure to draw the most national attention — and commentary in the press — is in a sixth state: Arizona, where voters in the 8th District will select a successor to former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, whose wounding in a Tucson shooting in January, 2011 was a tragedy watched by the world.
Tuesday, Democrat Ron Barber, top district aide to Giffords, squares off for the remainder of her term with 30-year-old Republican Jesse Kelly, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and small businessman. With not much time to go before the polls open, signs are strong that the last minute momentum is with Kelly, a tea party favorite who overcame the local Republican establishment to win nomination in 2010 and came within 2 percentage points of unseating Giffords in November.
Along with maintaining his strong grass-roots following among tea partiers and traditional conservatives, Kelly has been given additional power by cash infusions from groups ranging from the National Republican Congressional Committee to the¬†American Crossroads SuperPAC. Barber, however, maintains a lead in the fund-raising department — with $1.2 million raised to $700,000 for Kelly.
But there are signs that the 66-year-old Barber is slipping. During a recent debate with Kelly, he raised heckles among fellow Democrats by refusing to say whether he would vote for President Obama in the 2012 election. ‚??My vote is my vote,‚?Ě was Barber‚??s response. This response came a month after First Lady Michelle Obama said of the Democratic hopeful: “He is going to do a fantastic job representing his district in Washington.
In terms of issues, Kelly makes no secret of his conservatism — strongly pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and voicing hope that his first vote in Congress will be ‚??to repeal Obamacare and throw it in the fireplace!‚?Ě
There are signs of nervousness on the part of Democrats. Press releases from Democratic outlets and the Democratic SuperPAC¬†known as House Majority PAC now refer without hesitation to the Republican nominee as ‚??Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly.‚?Ě A final appeal for funds from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi invokes the name and image of ‚??Gabby,‚?Ě the much-loved former House Member.
At a time when it seems House districts are increasingly ‚??safe‚?Ě for one major party or another, figures from the Arizona secretary of state show there are 156,361 Republican voters compared to 130,645 Democrats. So the independent voters — and turnout among the respective bases of the candidates — will be pivotal to who wins the 8th Tuesday.