Kelly Wins AZ-08 Primary
Iraq war veteran Jesse Kelly has won the Republican nomination to replace former Rep. Gabby Giffords in Arizona's 8th Congressional District. The Associated Press called the race for Kelly, the 2010 nominee against Giffords, shortly after midnight.
With every precinct reporting, Kelly led the four-person GOP field with 36 percent of the vote. Ex-combat pilot Martha McSally came in second at 25 percent, followed closely by state Sen. Frank Antenori. Radio broadcaster Dave Sitton brought up the rear with 17 percent.
Now comes the hard part for Kelly. He advances to the June 12 special election against Democratic nominee Ron Barber. Barber, a former Giffords aide who was wounded in the January 2009 attack that left six people dead and Giffords gravely wounded, was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Kelly ran a cautious primary campaign banking on high name identification from his previous run and strong support from the tea party, currently the dominant faction in the 8th District's Republican politics. (In an interview with Hotline On Call in February, Kelly responded to virtually every question with some variant of his economic slogan: "Lower taxes, more jobs and a stronger economy.")
But despite the district's Republican lean, Kelly faces a taller task against Barber, who basks in the glow of goodwill that has surrounded Giffords and her team since the assassination attempt in January 2009.
Republicans worry that Kelly's 2010 campaign against Giffords will be a major drag on his image this time around. Though the 2010 race was marked by strong rhetoric on both sides, it is hard not to wince in retrospect at some of the lines Kelly used, especially his June 2010 fundraiser inviting supporters to shoot a M-16 rifle as part of the effort to remove Giffords from office.
Barber's close relationship with Giffords (She endorsed him as he entered the race) helped him clear the field of any serious Democratic opposition.
The winner of the special election will fill the remainder of Giffords's term, but they won't get much time to get comfortable in the seat. The same roster of candidates will meet again in the August 28 primary for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, an election conducted under the state's new district lines. That district has a slightly more Democratic lean than the old 8th District.