- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Democrats kept former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords‘ seat in their fold Tuesday with Ron Barber, a one-time aide to Ms. Giffords, fending off a special-election challenge in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.

Mr. Barber had played down any ties to President Obama in this swing district, and the strategy worked as he was cruising to to an easy victory over Republican Jesse Kelly.

The GOP conceded the race after midnight on the East Coast with Mr. Barber trouncing his opponent by 8 percentage points, with most precincts reporting.

National and state Democrats had pleaded with voters to keep them in power in what they called “Gabby’s seat” — the district the former congresswoman gave up in January, a little more than a year after she was severely wounded during a shooting at an outdoor town-hall meeting she was hosting in January 2011.

In a last-minute fundraising email House Democrats sent out a picture of Ms. Giffords voting earlier Tuesday with Mr. Barber, a former aide whom she asked to run for her seat.

Both parties and their allied outside interest groups poured money into the race, which fills the seat through the end of this year and which had been seen as an early test of election-year messaging.

“This campaign previewed the message fight that will play out across the country in November: Democrats committed to protecting the middle class, Social Security and Medicare versus misleading Republican attacks on Obamacare and national Democrats,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign committee.

But Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the Republicans’ House campaign committee, said the Arizona election was unique, given Ms. Giffords‘ circumstances.

He also predicted the race in November will be different, when Mr. Obama will top the ticket here.

The district will look different in November, however, after being redrawn following the 2010 census, and analysts said the new lines will favor Democrats more than the current makeup.

Ms. Giffords won the seat in 2006 after longtime Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe retired and the GOP fractured in a bitter primary. Ms. Giffords defended the seat in 2008 and then survived Republicans’ tea party wave in 2010 in what was one of the tightest races in the country.

The weekend after she and the rest of her House colleagues were sworn in for the 112th Congress, she was holding a town hall at a shopping center in Tucson when police say Jared Lee Laughner opened fire, killing six people and wounding Ms. Giffords and a dozen others.

Ms. Giffords was slowly recovering and made an emotional return to the House floor last summer, but she announced just before this year’s State of the Union address that she would step down to focus more on her recovery. She hinted that her days in politics aren’t over yet.

The Arizona race was the marquee matchup on a day that also saw primaries for congressional candidates in Virginia, Maine, Nevada and South Carolina.

Former Sen. George Allen won the Republican nomination in Virginia to try to recapture his seat. The man who beat him, Sen. Jim Webb, is retiring after one term, and Mr. Allen will instead face former Gov. Tim Kaine.

In Maine, Republican Charlie Summers topped five others in the GOP primary and Cynthia Dill won the Democratic primary for the state’s open Senate seat. They will go up against former Gov. Angus King, an independent who is the front-runner to succeed retiring Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Republican.

Republicans say they believe Mr. King has struck a back-room deal to support Democrats should he be elected, and they are hoping to try to divide Democratic voters in the state.

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