Republican House candidate Jesse Kelly is seen by many in the Arizona GOP as the favorite to win the June 12 special primary to run for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seat.
Democrats intend to make Social Security and Medicare cuts a national issue. Likewise, Kelly and his team are focused on discussing issues and tying Barber to President Barack Obama.
Locally, though, it’s personal. Democratic wounds remain raw from the rough 2010 campaign. But some of the bruises come from the shootings. Kelly was widely criticized in the Tucson massacre aftermath for using diction and imagery during the 2010 campaign that alluded to shooting and targets. Those metaphors have never been tied to inspiring the massacre.
The other Republican hopefuls, such as McSally and Sitton, don’t carry any baggage from the 2010 race or ties to Giffords.
McSally has fascinated many, including Democrats. She broke glass ceilings during her time in the Air Force and proved to be a deft bureaucratic fighter when she challenged rules that forced her to wear an abaya during her service in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with Roll Call, she showed passion for foreign affairs and gender issues. However, she has stumbled on the trail regarding domestic issues as well as knowledge of the district.
The chatter about Sitton before last week’s filing of fundraising reports was that he lacked enthusiasm. His report told a far different story. He raised more than Kelly and McSally, and most of it was from local donors. He is viewed as the state establishment favorite and has long held ties to the Tucson community.
State Sen. Frank Antenori is also seeking the GOP nod in the special primary, but he did not file a fundraising report last week.
Kelly has spent his funds strategically. Although he had a high burn rate, because of early voting he reached many voters just as they were beginning to make their decisions.
Adding to the uncertainty of the race is that the filing deadline for the August primary is before the June special election. GOP candidates who lose the special nomination will have to decide before the special general whether they want to run again and possibly appear on the ballot with an incumbent.
Democrats have not completely avoided this sort of anxiety. State House Rep. Matt Heinz has deferred to Barber for the special, but he still intends to run in the Aug. 28 primary.
Regardless of all the chess playing, the demographics are clear. Both races are pure tossups.