Gabrielle Giffords' seat among primaries today
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Voters in southeastern Arizona will decide today whether to continue the legacy of Democratic former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, by electing a former aide who was among those injured with her in a tragic 2011 shooting, or to punish President Barack Obama for his handling of the economy by supporting a Tea Party-backed Republican.
In a special election to fill the remaining six months of Ms. Giffords' congressional term, Democratic former aide Ron Barber is matched against Republican Jesse Kelly, a Marine veteran who narrowly lost to Ms. Giffords in a bitter 2010 showdown.
A win by Mr. Barber would offer reassurance to Democrats that they can triumph in swing districts, while a Kelly victory would be the latest blow to Mr. Obama's political standing and could end recent Democratic speculation that he might be competitive in Arizona this fall.
In the final days of the contest, Mr. Barber emphasized his ties to Ms. Giffords, who appeared at campaign events with him over the weekend along with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
Jesse Kelly, 30, and his Republican allies have focused almost entirely on trying to tie Mr. Barber to Mr. Obama, who is unpopular in the Tucson-based district, a key battleground for his immigration policies.
Sensing a chance to pick up a Democratic seat, the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent nearly $900,000 to aid Mr. Kelly, about twice as much as its Democratic counterpart spent on Mr. Barber.
Also today, several other states will formally set their lineups in key Senate races. In Nevada, interim Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley are poised to officially claim their parties' nominations to run for the seat vacated last year by John Ensign, amid a sex-and-lobbying scandal.
That is likely to be one of the nation's hottest Senate races, as is the contest in Virginia, where Republican former Sen. George Allen and Democratic former Gov. Tim Kaine are expected to coast to nominations today.
In a state that leans Republican, former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, hopes to use today's nomination to launch her upstart bid against GOP Rep. Rick Berg.
Maine voters will decide which Republican and Democratic nominees will face popular former Gov. Angus King, a heavy favorite, running for the Senate as an independent.
But the Arizona special election is the race that could provide the best window into the fall political climate. Arizona's 8th District, with hundreds of miles bordering Mexico, has been a central battleground in the past few elections.
After a longtime Republican retired in 2006, Ms. Giffords won the seat by campaigning as a centrist Democrat. In 2010, after violence tied to illegal immigration and drug trafficking, she took a staunch border-security stand that helped her edge Mr. Kelly by about 1 percent.
Mr. Barber, 66, served as Ms. Giffords' top district staffer. He was with her at a "Congress on Your Corner" Tucson supermarket event in January 2011, when a troubled 22-year-old, Jared Lee Loughner, allegedly opened fire, shooting Ms. Giffords, Mr. Barber and 16 others. Six people died, including a federal judge and another Giffords staffer.
Ms. Giffords has made what doctors consider a remarkable recovery but resigned in January, a year after the shootings. Democrats persuaded Mr. Barber that he was the best candidate to take her place.
First Published June 12, 2012 12:00 am