Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

Arizona: Ron Barber Wins Special Election to Replace Gabrielle Giffords

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democrat Ron Barber, a staffer for ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, won the highly competitive Arizona special election to succeed his former boss Tuesday.

Barber defeated Republican Jesse Kelly, 53 percent to 45 percent, according to the Associated Press. Giffords, a Democrat, resigned in January in order to focus on her rehabilitation after an assassination attempt in January 2011. Barber was also seriously wounded in the shootings.

The victory means more than saving a single House seat for Democrats. On a personal level, it means Giffords’ chosen candidate will succeed her in Congress. On a national level, it gives Democrats some much-needed good news.

Republicans have had the edge in the 8th district over the past 10 years, and Giffords won a very close re-election contest there against Kelly in 2010. Giffords was seen as an exceptional Democrat able to win in conservative-leaning territory, and like the Blue Dog former Congresswoman, Barber ran as an unapologetic moderate.

Both parties invested heavily in winning the special election. The parties’ House campaign arms along with their allied outside groups spent more than $2 million combined on the race — not counting what the candidates spent.

Democrats will likely point to TV advertising and rhetoric criticizing Kelly over Social Security and Medicare as one of the keys that helped ensure Barber’s victory. That was the plan from the start, and it was executed up until the final hours of the race. The ads worked. Elderly people in Tucson associated Kelly with entitlement cuts and voiced fears over the idea of his election to Congress.

But the election was about much more than those issues. Giffords campaigned for Barber over the weekend and excited the Democratic base in the campaign’s final days. Still, strategists will likely point to their early voting strategy as the biggest factor in Barber’s win. More than half of the votes in the special were cast before Tuesday.

Barber now gets to run for re-election this fall in a renumbered district that is slightly more favorable for Democrats. Kelly has said he will run again, but he faces an Aug. 28 primary and uncertainty about whether the national party will get behind him as its standard-bearer for a third consecutive time.


    Parochial issues and sentimental matters aside, if Kelly ever was to prevail here -where registered Rs constitute a majority but hard-edged rightists do not- 2010 was such a time, just as 1984 was for Kolbe, who took advantage of exceptionally favourable circumstances then, and made him (so far) the only R to represent any portion of the AZMEX (i.e. border) region in the House. Alas, Herr Kelly’s brand of R politics seems more in sync with those in the opposite quadrant of this vast desert state.

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