In a nationally-watched special election, Ron Barber, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) top district aide, won 52 percent of the vote Tuesday over Republican Jesse Kelly, a former U.S. Marine and small businessman. The near-reverence that Giffords is held in by her voters in Arizonaâ??s 8th District since the tragic shooting that led to her leaving Congress was enough to help Barber win her former House seat.
It really didnâ??t matter that Republicans held an edge in registered voters of more than 26,000 in the Tucson-based district and that Kelly came within two percentage points of defeating Giffords in 2010. Democrats from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on down invoked the name of â??Gabbyâ? in fundraising appeals for the 66-year-old Barber — who was wounded in the same January 2011 shooting from which Giffords is still recovering from.
Including independent expenditures, Democrat Barber raised an estimated $2.2 million and outspent the 30-year-old Kelly by about $300,000.
Supported by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Kelly hit hard at Barber as a tool to President Obama, who is extremely unpopular in the Grand Canyon State. Barber refused to say in a public debate that he would even vote for Obama this fall and insisted â??[M]y vote is my vote.â? Barber and the Democrats almost always referred to Kelly as â??tea party candidate Jesse Kellyâ? and charged that he wanted to scrap Social Security and Medicare if elected.
But there was near-universal agreement that the biggest reason for Barberâ??s triumph was Giffords herself, who appeared with husband Mark Kelly at a get-out-the vote rally for the Democratic hopeful Saturday night. A Public Policy Polling survey showed the former congresswoman with a 67 percent approval rating districtwide.
Barber and Kelly will meet in a rematch this fall in Arizona-2, to which the 8th District has been retitled following redistricting which gave Democrats an advantage in registered voters.