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Five Not-So-Special Lessons From Tucson

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Jesse Kelly failed to win the 8th district special election in Arizona.

In a wave election, almost any aspiring Congressional candidate can win a House seat under the right circumstances. Not so much in special elections.

The NRCC’s poor special election track record is littered with lackluster candidates — many of whom the committee had no choice in selecting. New York GOP leaders picked candidates such as former state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd district and former state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in New York’s 26th district. Dairy magnate Jim Oberweis spent his way to the GOP nomination in Illinois’ 14th district in the 2008 race to replace former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R).

And remember David Weprin, the Democratic nominee in the special election for former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D) seat? It was Democrats’ biggest special election blunder of the past six years, and Weprin’s lackluster candidacy played a big part in it.

Republicans caution that Kelly ran a better campaign in the special than he did in 2010, but it still wasn’t enough. Already there are rumblings among local Republicans about backing retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally over Kelly in the August primary that will decide who will take on Barber in November.

4. Early Voting Matters More

The one big takeaway from Arizona is this: Campaigns need robust early voting drives in special elections — and in all elections. By the time the polls opened Tuesday, three-quarters of the votes were already cast via early ballots in the 8th district race, according to an initial tabulation from the Arizona secretary of state’s office.

In 2010, Kelly got more votes than Giffords on Election Day. But he lost the early voting battle to the then-Congresswoman,
who won by 4,000 votes when all the ballots were counted.

This time around, Kelly lost the early vote count by 14,056 ballots, according to the same initial figures. At the end of the day, Barber won the race by 13,011 votes.

5. Outside Groups Matter the Most

Republicans will win the outside spending war after Labor Day. But those same groups lost the battle in Arizona.

It’s not because the GOP groups spent less than House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC that invested heavily in the race. Online records show outside groups on either side spent about $460,000 each on the race.

The uncoordinated orchestration between the DCCC and House Majority PAC in the Tucson media market was downright artful.

After the special election primary on April 17, the DCCC bought airtime for two weeks starting April 26, plus the last two weeks leading up to the election. The committee’s buy left an obvious three-week hole that House Majority PAC subsequently filled with a 60-second spot.

The super PAC’s ad used damaging footage of Kelly quotes from his 2010 run. The spot also coincided with the first weeks of early voting.

But Republicans said it was the final House Majority PAC spot that did the most damage to Kelly and his prospects. Like its precursors, this spot also featured footage of Kelly from his 2010 race against Giffords.

“Now she stands there, with that smile, and pretends to be some kind of hometown hero,” Kelly said in the spot. “She’s a hero of nothing.”

Game over.

Correction: June 14, 2012

An earlier version of the article misstated the party affiliation for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

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