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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.

“I think it’s been great,” he said of the race. “It’s been a really issues-based campaign, and we’ve presented our message.”

He rarely mentions Giffords or Barber by name, and in his advertising and interactions with supporters, he cultivates a polite, Boy Scout image.

In the aftermath of the 2011 shootings, Giffords’ 2010 campaign — and Kelly’s rhetoric specifically — were pinpointed for blame. It rarely comes up on the trail now, though.

But despite the lack of personal attacks, this is still a negative race.

Barber and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have hammered Kelly hard on entitlements. On the other side, the Kelly campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee have accused Barber of supporting cap-and-trade and “Obamacare.”

At the mention of the charges, the congenial Barber turns steely. He calls the portrayals “misinformation, exaggerations, fabrications.”

“I wish I had that kind of influence,” he said of his days as a Hill staffer.

Kelly’s aides similarly accuse Democrats of dishonest tactics, specifically on the charges that Kelly intends to privatize Social Security.

“Our take on it is that we want the next generation to have choices,” he said when asked if he supports Social Security privatization. “We want to protect the benefits that seniors have earned. The government doesn’t have the option to take away those benefits, to protect the seniors that are currently on it, and give choices to the next generation.”

But fair or not, it is very apparent on the ground that the Democratic attacks and portrayal of Kelly have registered with elderly voters.

Uncharted Territory

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