Arizona Voters Choosing Gabby Giffords' Replacement
Voters in southeastern Arizona go to the polls Tuesday in a special election to fill out the remainder of the congressional term of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Giffords, a Democrat, resigned in January, a year after she was critically wounded in a shooting. Running to fill the remaining six months of her term are her former district director, Ron Barber, and Republican Jesse Kelly, a businessman and Iraq War veteran.
The special election bears some small resemblance to the 2010 congressional campaign held in the Tucson-based 8th Congressional District.
Kelly is once again the Republican candidate, hoping to reverse the district's 2010 results where he lost to Giffords by some 4,000 votes. He's running against Barber — who was Giffords' top aide in Arizona.
But of course, nothing is the same in Arizona's 8th district since the 2011 shooting, in which Giffords and Barber both were wounded, and six people were killed.
Barber and Kelly have tangled over a number of issues, in what by all accounts will be a tight race in a year when both parties are scrambling for every seat in Congress.
Barber tells NPR: "I've been hearing over and over again from middle class Arizonans that they're really feeling squeezed, and that no one really cares about their concerns."
Kelly, who in the 2010 race called Social Security a ponzi scheme, has backed away from that comment.
He declined to be interviewed by NPR, but last week in an interview on MSNBC, he said beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare should be given choices between government and private programs.
"Right now, Medicare recipients are getting less quality care than they ever have because the access to doctors is decreasing. That's because the government simply won't pay its bills," Kelly told MSNBC. "Doctors are trying to get paid for the Medicare patients and they're not getting paid by the government."
Kelly says he would support the repeal of President Obama's health care bill, the Affordable Care Act. Barber says parts of the program should be kept and others made to work better.
In the aftermath of last year's shooting, Kelly has toned down his 2010 "Send A Warrior To Congress" campaign theme, although a PAC supporting Kelly this time around sent out a fundraising email using a photo of the ex-Marine in camouflage holding an assault rifle.
Kelly's own ads have presented a kinder, gentler image of him as a family man.
The National Republican Campaign Committee has run ads on Kelly's behalf, implying Barber would be a pawn for Obama.
Barber has tried to keep Kelly from tying him to the president in a district that leans Republican. During a debate last month, he even refused to state whether he'd vote to re-elect Obama.
Now Barber says he would, but also says Republicans are trying to nationalize the race.
"This race is really about Congressional District 8, the southern part of our state, and the communities and the people that live here. I'm not going to be drawn into a national debate about issues that have nothing to do, ultimately, with what's good for the people I hope to represent," Kelly says.
Barber has outraised and outspent Kelly, but Kelly has benefited from slightly more spending by outside groups, according to the campaign finance watchdog, OpenSecrets.org.
Early voting has been underway for some time.
Barber held a rally Saturday night with Giffords, who made a rare public appearance on behalf of her former staffer.
Her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, says Giffords' decision to step down to focus on her rehab was incredibly difficult.
"But she knew that at that point it made sense for her to step down. And the person that she knew could represent this community the way she did is this man, standing to our left," Kelly said at the rally, referring to Barber.
No matter who wins Tuesday's special election, both candidates say they'll be back on the campaign trail this fall, running for a full two-year term. But the winner will clearly have the advantage going into November.