Former Gabrielle Giffords aide Ron Barber wins election to finish her term
Outside groups spent more than $2 million on the race. Barber, 66, had a sizable fundraising lead in late May, but spending from conservative groups helped reduce the Democratic financial edge.
The Arizona 8th is a rare district that is competitive virtually every election. Giffords defeated Kelly by about 4,000 votes in 2010 when the election focused on immigration and when tea partyers rallied to the tough-talking former Marine. Now, the economy and jobs are voters' top concerns.
Kelly, 30, spent the campaign arguing that Barber and Obama are out of touch with people in the district. He called for lower taxes and more energy production as ways to improve the economy. And he said he would roll back federal regulations and environmental protections in an effort to boost oil and gas drilling.
Barber tried to convince voters that he understands their concerns. He frequently talked about building up the solar industry and cutting taxes for the middle class. While Kelly made it clear he would not support any income tax increases, Barber said the wealthy need to "pay their fair share."
The Tucson region is home to a growing population of retirees who rely on Medicare and Social Security. Kelly said in 2010 that privatizing the programs was a "must." He said he would protect Social Security for current seniors but that the program needed to be "phased out." Giffords assailed his comments with great effect, and Democratic groups employed a similar game plan for the special election even as Kelly said his words were taken out of context.
Democratic officials were thrilled that Barber won a seat in a district that President George W. Bush carried with 54 percent of the vote in 2004 and that John McCain carried with 53 percent of the vote when he ran against Obama.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used the victory to make the claim that the election was a referendum on "the Republican plans to drastically cut Medicare and privatize Social Security, while giving massive tax breaks to millionaires, big oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas."
But Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, made the point that special elections are unique and that the Arizona race was particularly so because of what had happened to Giffords. He predicted that Barber would not fare as well in the fall with Obama leading the ticket.
"No one wanted this election to happen or to see Gabrielle Giffords step down from Congress, but Jesse ran a campaign focused on pro-growth policies that will lead to less government and a strong and vibrant economy," Sessions said.
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