Democrat Ron Barber, the former Gabrielle Giffords aide, won the Arizona special election on Tuesday to replace the still recovering congresswoman who was shot in the head over a year ago.
Barber will serve out the remaining six months of Giffords’ term. Both Barber and Jesse Kelly, his Tea Party opponent, will face each other again this fall to represent Gifford’s district for a full term. Barber won 52% of the vote to Kelly’s 45%.
Barber’s victory was a win both for the Democrats and for bipartisanship at large. After the Wisconsin recall election last week that saw far-right Republican Governor Scott Walker defeat his Democratic challenger, Republicans would have used a Kelly election in Arizona as further evidence of a rising “crimson tide” of Republican sympathy ahead of the November general election.
More so, Barber will continue Giffords’ moderate bi-partisan agenda, especially in the hotly conservative Arizona political environment. Giffords’ assassination attempt in January 2011 sparked a national debate on bi-partisanship in politics.
Voter turnout in the Giffords special election stood at a strong 47%.
The Republican Kelly had focused his campaign against Obama’s politics, seeking to avert attention from the Giffords’ assassination tragedy.
Arizona’s 8th district is Republican-leaning, but the race was close as this is a swing district: Giffords won only by a 4,000 margin in 2010 against Kelly. In a poll released Monday, 53% of voters chose Barber compared to 41% who chose Kelly.
Conservative groups and the national Republican Party spent about $1.4 million on Kelly’s behalf, while the Democratic Party and allied groups spent about $900,000 for Barber.
With outside sources injecting another $2 million into the campaign in hopes of influencing the House majority, the race became the latest litmus test of voter opinion ahead of the general election.
Republicans now hold a 240-192 advantage in the House with three vacancies, including Giffords' seat. A Democrat loss would have made it harder to win the 25 seats needed for a blue majority in the House. But one election, especially an unusual case such as tonight’s, cannot of course be a litmus test for every other state.