Arizona: GOP Nominates Jesse Kelly in Race to Succeed Gabrielle Giffords

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:33am

As expected, Jesse Kelly won the GOP nomination Tuesday in the special election to finish out former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D) term. The Associated Press called the race a little before 1 a.m. today with about 55 percent of precincts reporting.

The win sets up a rematch by proxy between Kelly and Giffords. The two faced off in a rough 2010 campaign, and now Kelly will face former Giffords aide Ron Barber in the June 12 special election. Barber, who was unchallenged in the Democratic primary, has the support of the former Congresswoman, her husband and her inner circle.

The special election in the swing seat is expected to be highly competitive, and both parties wasted little time in ratcheting up their rhetoric.

In a statement, Barber called Kelly “radical” and slammed the military veteran’s positions on Social Security, Medicare and a national sales tax.

“This district has always been competitive, and it remains competitive,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said in a statement. “Republicans look forward to a vigorous debate on the issues, and we will do so by working with Jesse Kelly to help spread his positive message about fiscal responsibility and holding Washington accountable.”

Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally came in second behind Kelly. State Sen. Frank Antenori was third and college TV broadcaster Dave Sitton rounded out the pack in Tuesday’s primary.

Early voting proved crucial in Kelly’s win. He started the race with high name identification from his previous run and had the heaviest television presence when early ballots first went out to voters. It is a lesson learned from 2010. Republicans and Democrats alike said that Giffords won that race on early ballots.

Still, both Republicans and Democrats were impressed with McSally’s showing. Her spread with Kelly was large, but her campaign had essentially started from scratch. She could surface again in Arizona politics, even as soon as this summer for the fall campaign if Kelly comes up short against Barber in June.

Roll Call rates the special election as a Tossup. The winner of the June contest will run for re-election in the fall in a slightly reconfigured district because of redistricting. That district will be renumbered as the 2nd district and has a slightly more Democratic edge.