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.
Some recognize him from television commercials. Others know him from his years working in government. But mostly, he is known as the staffer who was shot in the face and the leg in the Safeway parking lot.
Some come to shake his hand, others approach him with tears in their eyes. He is an outlet for their emotions.
He is not a natural backslapper, but in his own way, he has an earnest appeal.
“It was about continuing in a different way something I have done all of my adult life, which is public service,” Barber said when asked if he felt obligated to run.
Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers described a recent Barber televised debate performance as comforting for voters because they got “to see how qualified he was.”
The only visible trace of the gunshot wounds Barber sustained is a dimple on his cheek.
“I lost my cane!” he bragged about his recovery at a Memorial Day ceremony in Sierra Vista. Since the campaign began, he swears his health is better, calling the experience “the best medicine.”
Change in Tone
Kelly, who came close to defeating Giffords in 2010, has mellowed since that campaign.
Two years ago, he presented himself as an ex-Marine, and his campaign featured an image of him carrying a high-powered assault weapon while on duty in the Middle East and called him a “warrior.” He often employed hot rhetoric, such as accusing Giffords of “betraying” her constituents over border issues.
In this contest, his tone could not be more different.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.