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Fighting to Succeed Giffords

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
The special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona will be decided next week. The contest between Republican Jesse Kelly and Democrat Ron Barber is viewed as a tossup and as a messaging test for both parties.

TUCSON, Ariz. — A year and a half after a gunman’s rampage at the Oracle Road Safeway, a small plaque is the only sign of the horrific shootings that killed six and injured 13, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D).

As shoppers go about their business, there are also no visible signs of the tossup special election to replace Giffords. But elsewhere in the 8th district, they are everywhere.

In a district that rose to national prominence in January 2011, next Tuesday’s race to succeed Giffords has many layers of importance.

The national parties and their allies have spent heavily to attack Republican Jesse Kelly and Democrat Ron Barber in a test run of messaging for the fall campaign.

For the GOP, the race is about putting an incumbent in the seat before it becomes slightly more Democratic in the fall, and a victory would be a nice boost for morale. For Democrats, it is a must-win for the party’s effort to retake the House and to hold onto the Giffords legacy.

But for Safeway shopper Modesto Gutierrez, it’s about the economy.

He described himself as an independent but said he had already cast an early vote for Kelly based on “abortion, the economy, the economy, the economy, spending, spending, spending.”

Gutierrez said he is a fan of Giffords and probably would have voted for her re-election. But the former Congresswoman’s endorsement of Barber, her former aide who was also shot, wasn’t enough to change his thinking.

“It does matter,” he said. “But I don’t think it will make a difference in this race because of the way the economy is.”

Campaign Medicine

When Barber campaigns, he doesn’t have to seek out voters — they come to him.

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