Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber embrace before he addresses supporters… (Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo )
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ chosen successor won her Arizona congressional seat Tuesday night, boosting Democrats’ efforts to take control of the House this fall.
With all precincts reporting, Ron Barber led Republican Jesse Kelly by nearly 7 percentage points, according to unofficial returns. Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt last year and resigned in January to concentrate on her recovery, had waited at Barber’s election night party, anticipating victory.
“Well, a year ago I’d never have dreamt I’d be standing here — but life takes unexpected turns, and here we are,” Barber told supporters late Tuesday.
After making several pledges to improve Arizona from his seat in Washington, Barber finished with a nod to his predecessor:
“One more person deserves a very special thank-you tonight. You all know who I am talking about: Congresswoman Giffords. Gabby is my friend, and she is an inspiration to all of us. Gabby, we love you, and we are so grateful for your leadership and your dedication to this community. Thank you for everything you have done for us.”
Kelly, 30, narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010. A few months later, Giffords was shot in the head outside a Tucson grocery store while greeting constituents. Barber also was wounded, along with 11 others. Six people were killed, including a federal judge.
When Giffords relinquished her seat this year, she asked Barber to run in the special election. On Tuesday, she, her husband and Barber voted together.
From the start, national political bosses from both parties poured money into the politically moderate 8th District in an effort to influence the outcome. Republicans outspent Democrats more than 2 to 1, with much of the money paying for TV attack ads linking Barber with what the GOP called President Obama’s failed economic policies.
“Ron Barber is helping Obama, but he is hurting Arizona,” one ad asserted.
Democratic leaders say they need to gain 25 seats to wrest the House majority from Republicans.
Barber will hold the seat until the end of the year. In November, both parties will vie to win a full two-year term.
Although Giffords’ endorsement was thought to carry persuasive emotional wallop, Democratic strategists took nothing for granted. In the hours before polls opened, party loyalists were urged to call 10 friends each to convince them to vote.
“We can’t afford to loose Gabby’s seat to a Radical Republican who would go after everything that she stands for,” read one release from the Barber camp.
Analysts had said that if Kelly won, it would suggest genuine trouble for Obama in his reelection bid against Republican Mitt Romney.
“There’s no other race in the nation where a former House member had to resign due to an assassination attempt,” Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst with the Rothenberg Political Report, said earlier Tuesday. “She has campaigned for Barber in recent days and Republicans will no doubt point to her involvement in any loss.”