Barber with Giffords in Jan. 2012 (Matt York/Pool via AP)
Democrat Ron Barber, who is running in a special House election to succeed Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, on Friday castigated Republican opponent Jesse Kelly for attempting to "nationalize" their race.
"I'm really trying to make sure that this race in Southern Arizona is about Southern Arizona," Barber, Giffords' former district director, said Friday morning on MSNBC's Daily Rundown. "My opponent continually tries to nationalize this race and tries to associate me with bills that I've never had anything to do with."
Kelly has accused Barber of supporting the president and "Obamacare." Recently, Republicans, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, have criticized Barber for receiving a raise while serving as district director.
"As Arizonans were losing their homes and struggling to make ends meet, Ron Barber accepted a massive taxpayer-funded pay raise," NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said this week in response to a report of Barber's raise.
Criticism over pay raises is typically reserved for members of Congress, who vote on whether to accept an across-the-board pay raise. In this case, Barber was an individual whose salary was decided by Giffords' staff.
Barber, who has never served in office, claimed Friday that voters are much more interested in local issues than how strongly Barber supports President Obama-- a question Kelly posed directly to Barber during a May 23 political debate. Barber refused then to confirm whom he'd support in November, but Barber's campaign later clarified his intention, saying Barber does support Obama. Barber on MSNBC refused to align himself with the president but confirmed he will vote for him in November.
Barber also rejected labeling the seat for which he is running as "Gabby's seat," saying it belongs to the people of the district. But much of the language used by Democrats and actions by Barber's campaign clearly link the district with the former congresswoman, who was shot in the head during a Jan. 2011 town hall attack and resigned this year.
Barber's campaign has been recently touting a get-out-the-vote concert Saturday featuring Giffords.
The special election to choose Giffords' successor for the remainder of her term in Arizona's 8th District is June 12. Barber and Kelly, a veteran and Giffords' 2010 opponent, are also competing in the state's regularly scheduled primary to choose a full-term representative. Due to redistricting changes, that race is for the newly drawn and renumbered 2nd District.