Giffords helps Democrat on stump for her Arizona seat

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Democrats went into Tuesday’s special congressional election in Arizona hoping that late campaign appearances by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords would help push her hand-picked successor to victory.

Republicans, trying to make the House race in the southern Arizona district a referendum on President Obama and his handling of the economy, ran a former Marine who narrowly lost to Ms. Giffords two years ago.

The Arizona race was just one of the election battles taking place across the nation Tuesday. Voters in Virginia, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and South Carolina were also taking part in primary elections.

On a night when Virginia voters picked familiar names in several contests - George Allen won the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, Tim Kaine won the Democratic nod for the same seat and Rep. James P. Moran easily won his 8th Congressional District primary - a relative unknown emerged in the 11th Congressional District.

Retired U.S. Army colonel and former Green Beret Chris Perkins has won the Republican nomination for a seat in Congress from the Northern Virginia district.

In Maine, one of the night’s earliest results had Kevin Raye defeating Blaine Richardson for the Republican nomination in the 2nd District U.S. House race.

In Arizona, Ms. Giffords, 42, resigned in January to focus on her recovery from a gunshot wound to her head during a gunman’s shooting spree a year earlier. Six people died and 13 were wounded at a constituent event she was hosting outside a Tucson supermarket.

She has made few public appearances since the shooting, but has returned to Tucson in recent days to help the former director of her district office, Ron Barber, in his race to succeed her in the House. His Republican opponent is Jesse Kelly, 30.

Arizona’s 8th Congressional District is a rare swing district that is competitive virtually every election. Ms. Giffords defeated Mr. Kelly by about 4,000 votes in 2010 when the election focused on immigration and when tea party members rallied to the tough-talking former Marine. Now, the economy and jobs are atop voters’ concerns.

Both parties’ national organizations have invested in the race. A win will give the victor a chance to claim momentum five months before November. A loss for Democrats would add to the difficulty of gaining the 25 seats they need to take control of the House. Republicans now hold a 240-192 advantage with three vacancies, including Ms. Giffords‘ seat.

Tuesday’s victory will be only a temporary one. Both candidates are promising to run for a full term in the fall, setting up a possible November rematch in a newly redrawn district that is friendlier to Democrats.

Other key contests to be decided Tuesday:

c Six Republicans and four Democrats were running to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe in Maine. The front-runner, former Gov. Angus King, wasn’t on the ballot because he’s running as an independent.

c Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley each were expected to prevail with ease against a slate of unknowns in Nevada. Their fall race would be one of the most competitive in the country.

c In North Dakota, Rep. Rick Berg and businessman Duane Sand were vying for the Republican nomination in the race to replace retiring Sen. Kent Conrad. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is running unopposed.

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