News Politics

Kelly and Barber Face Off In Arizona Special Election To Replace Giffords

Robin Marty

The race to replace Democratic Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords may act as much as a bellweather of the 2012 election as the Wisconsin recall did -- for better or for worse.

Today, Arizona voters will decide who will fill the remaining months of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ term in office.  Giffords, who was nearly killed in an assassination attempt in January 2011, had long been on medical leave while recovering from a bullet wound to the head, but only officially resigned from office a few months ago.  The winner of today’s race will also have an advantage in the November election, and if successful then, a full term in office.

Republican candidate Jesse Kelly ran against Giffords in 2010, where he lost by a small margin during the Tea Party wave. Kelly is running against Ron Barber, a former aide of Giffords who was wounded in the 2011 shooting. Barber has received both the blessing and the active campaign support of Giffords, who is still extremely popular in her district according to Public Policy Polling.

Barber is also showing a large lead over Kelly in the same polling, a lead that is strengthened by the fact that well over half the voters polled had already cast their ballots.  Barber appears very likely to win today’s special election, according to PPP President Dean Debnam.  Yet he warns pundits about taking any results as a harbinger of November.

“Democrats are likely to win this race comfortably…. But the unusual circumstances of the contest make its relevance to any other contest later this year pretty limited. It’s not often you have a special election to replace an incumbent who resigned with a 67% favorability rating.”

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Whether today’s election has any significance for either the presidential race or any congressional races in the general election is disputed. Arizona public policy consultant Barry Arrons told the Daily Caller, “If the Democrats can’t hold Gabby Giffords’ seat in Tucson tomorrow, I would say the probability of the president having any shot of turning Arizona has decreased majestically.”

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake agrees that it could have some bearing on the presidential race, becasue, if Barber is successful, it will be largely due to his distancing himself from President Barack Obama. But as for what will happen in November for House candidates, that remains to be seen.

“This is not a preview of the 2012 battle for control of the House,” writes Blake. “A Democratic win doesn’t mean that party is primed to re-take the House, and a GOP win doesn’t mean that the Republican majority is totally safe. One race — and a quite unique one at that — does not demonstrate national momentum.”

As for Giffords, regardless of who wins her seat, it’s far too soon to count her out of politics altogether. According to her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, Giffords could consider a return to office as her recovery continues.  “Absolutely. At some point she could [run]. She’s getting better all the time,” Kelly told Politico in an interview. “It’s certainly not going to be this term, and I don’t know after that.”

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