Democrats hold on to Arizona congressional seat

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' hand-picked Democratic candidate won a special election Tuesday in southern Arizona to finish her term, defeating a Republican who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010.

The race was a hard-fought preview of the broader fall campaign as the two political parties used the contest to hone and test their political arguments for the November elections, when everything from the White House on down will be on the ballot.

Giffords had stepped down earlier this year to focus on her recovery from the gunshot wound she suffered in 2011 during a shooting rampage at a Tucson, Ariz., parking lot that killed six people and wounded 13. One of the wounded was Ron Barber, an aide to the congresswoman who will now serve the remainder of her term.

Republicans, sensing a chance to capture the seat, sought to make the special election a referendum on President Barack Obama and his handling of the economy. They argued that Barber, who was asked by the lawmaker to pursue the seat, would fall in line behind the White House.

Democrats, in turn, played to the senior vote by contending that Republican Jesse Kelly would not protect Medicare and Social Security.

With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Barber was winning about 52 percent of the vote while Kelly had 45 percent.

Both candidates have promised to run for a full term in the fall, setting up a possible November rematch in a redrawn district that is friendlier to Democrats. Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by about 26,000 under the current map. That edge will narrow to about 2,000 under redistricting.

Elsewhere Tuesday, Virginia, Maine, Nevada, Arkansas and South Carolina held primary elections — with most of those states choosing Senate nominees — as did North Dakota, where voters decided to let the University of North Dakota scrap its controversial nickname, the Fighting Sioux.

In Virginia, former Sen. George Allen brushed aside three rivals in the Republican Senate primary. Allen's victory set up a November clash with another former Virginia governor, Democrat Tim Kaine, in a campaign closely tied to the presidential race in a state both parties consider vital for victory.

In North Dakota, Rep. Rick Berg defeated businessman Duane Sand in the state's Republican Senate primary. Berg now faces Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the November race to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad. The election is expected to play a critical role in determining which party controls the Senate next year.

The vote concerning the Fighting Sioux nickname came about after the NCAA deemed it hostile and abusive, and placed the university under postseason sanctions. The state's Board of Education is now expected to retire the moniker and American Indian head logo.

In Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley easily defeated a slate of political unknowns in their respective primaries. Their fall race will be one of the most competitive in the country.

In Maine, state Sen. Cynthia Dill won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers won the GOP nomination.

The front-runner, former two-term Gov. Angus King, wasn't on the ballot because he's running as an independent.

No statewide races were part of the Arkansas and South Carolina primaries.

Of all the races Tuesday, the Arizona House race was the most closely watched, partly because of Giffords' absorbing story and partly because holding onto the seat was important for Democrats if they want to regain control of the House.

The party needs big gains in November to grab the majority from Republicans, who now hold a 240-192 advantage with three vacancies, including Giffords' seat.

Republicans, riding high after a decisive victory in Wisconsin's gubernatorial election last week, set their sights on Arizona. A victory would have given party leaders a chance to claim momentum five months before November and fine-tune their plan to link Democratic candidates to Obama, the incumbent at the top of the ticket.

Giffords, 42, largely shunned public appearances during the race, but in the closing days of the campaign she stepped out to help Barber.

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.

___

Freking reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Carson Walker contributed from Tucson and Dave Kolpack contributed from Fargo, N.D.

View Comments (676)

Recommended for You

  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the…

    AFP
  • Central Florida man killed by police serving search warrant

    By Barbara Liston ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - A 26-year-old Central Florida man died after being shot in the face early on Wednesday morning by a sheriff’s deputy attempting to serve a search warrant in a narcotics investigation, authorities said. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reported in a…

    Reuters
  • 175-Pound Pit Bull Hulk Shatters Misconceptions About the Breed

    This dog just may be the world's largest Pit Bull. Only 18-months-old, Hulk weighs a hefty 175 pounds. He's also best friends with a 3-year-old boy.

    ABC News
  • Chad president tells Boko Haram leader to surrender or face death

    By Madjiasra Nako N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - President Idriss Deby of Chad said on Wednesday he knew the whereabouts of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, and called on him to surrender or risk being killed. Chad's army has waged a series of battles against Boko Haram…

    Reuters
  • Australians on Indonesia death row arrive on execution island

    Two Australian drug smugglers were taken Wednesday to an Indonesian island where they will be executed despite frantic diplomatic efforts to save them, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia was "revolted" by their looming deaths. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the…

    AFP
  • U.S. may review 1959 airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly

    (Reuters) - U.S. transportation safety investigators said on Wednesday they are reviewing a request to reopen a probe into the 1959 airplane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper," and their pilot. The original investigation 56…

    Reuters
  • Mom convicted of killing son, 5, by poisoning him with salt

    WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A woman who blogged for years about her son's constant health woes was convicted Monday of poisoning him to death by force-feeding heavy concentrations of sodium through his stomach tube.

    Associated Press
  • Student Shot With BB Gun On Campus Shocked by University`s Reaction

    A student at Norfolk State University says she was shot with a BB gun and hit with a bottle of urine outside of a all-male dorm room on campus, but says the school offered little help to her or other students when she contacted them.

    Tribune
  • Couple plead not guilty to locking up kids 22 hours a day

    JEFFERSON, Ohio (AP) — A husband and wife accused of making three of their adopted children virtual prisoners inside their Ohio home pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that began after prosecutors say two girls crashed the family van while trying to make their escape.

    Associated Press
  • Pre-teen who called out Obama gets kicked off Facebook

    Pearson, under Facebook’s minimum age requirement of 13, was upset to find out that he was locked out of his account. After failing to get into his personal page, he created a new one, according to a Fox News blog post. “Due to the fact that approximately 7.5 million kids (under the age of 13) log…

    Christian Science Monitor54 mins ago
  • Killers sought in deaths of 300,000 chickens in South Carolina

    By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Revenge may be the motive for the killings in South Carolina of more than 300,000 commercial chickens worth about $1.7 million over the past two weeks, authorities said on Monday. Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken houses at…

    Reuters
  • Former marine reported killed in Syria

    A former Royal Marine has become the first Briton to be killed while fighting with Kurdish forces battling Islamic State jihadists in Syria, leaving his family "devastated" Wednesday. Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, died on Monday in a battle with IS militants, a source in the Kurdish People's…

    AFP
  • Americans Love K-Cups, but Their Creator Regrets Inventing Them

    Now it seems that John Sylvan, the inventor of the tiny containers, is firmly on Team #KillTheKCup too. “No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” said Sylvan.

    Takepart.com
  • Georgia police officer killed in shootout

    By David Beasley ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia police officer was killed in a shootout with a suspect in suburban Atlanta early on Wednesday, authorities said. Officers went to investigate reports of shots in a suburban neighborhood and came under fire about 1:30 a.m. EST, according to the Fulton…

    Reuters
  • Passengers use emergency slides after landing in Denver

    DENVER (AP) — Passengers on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, were forced to slide off the plane on emergency chutes soon after landing in Denver on Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • Judge Napolitano on 'scathing' federal report on Ferguson PD

    Insight from Fox News senior judicial analyst

    FOX News Videos
  • Father says no proof his son is 'Jihadi John'

    The father of "Jihadi John" said in an interview published Wednesday that there was no proof that his son was the Islamic State executioner, adding there were a number of "false rumours" circulating. "There is nothing that proves what is being circulated in the media, especially through video clips…

    AFP
  • Survivor testifies about 2 friends stabbed, bound, drowned

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A man who survived being beaten, bound, stabbed in the neck and kicked into the Schuylkill River took the stand in a hearing Tuesday and described the night his two friends lost their lives.

    Associated Press