Dem Poll Gives Barber Edge as Arizona House Race Heats Up

Already one of the more active House races this election year, the contest between Ron Barber and Martha McSally is only just getting started.

Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, left, with his former boss and predecessor Gabrielle Giffords
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
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Jack Fitzpatrick
June 13, 2014, 2:06 a.m.

Ac­cord­ing to a new poll from a friendly su­per PAC, Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ron Barber holds an early lead in his re­match against former Air Force pi­lot Martha Mc­Sally, a Re­pub­lic­an, des­pite a Koch-fun­ded ad cam­paign against him and Mc­Sally’s fa­mili­ar­ity in the dis­trict after her 2012 race against Barber.

Barber leads Mc­Sally 45 per­cent to 37 per­cent in the poll from Demo­crat­ic-aligned House Ma­jor­ity PAC, with 18 per­cent of re­spond­ents un­de­cided. The Demo­crat­ic polling firm Norm­ing­ton Petts sur­veyed 400 likely voters from June 8-10, with a mar­gin of er­ror of 4.9 per­cent­age points.

The poll in­dic­ates a close race in a tightly di­vided dis­trict, and 45 per­cent is of­ten con­sidered a treach­er­ous line for in­cum­bent of­fice­hold­ers in polling. But the sur­vey also provides evid­ence that Barber — one of House Demo­crats’ most en­dangered in­cum­bents in 2014 — has thus far with­stood an early ad cam­paign by groups like the LIBRE Ini­ti­at­ive and Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, two non­profits with ties to the Koch broth­ers that have already spent hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in south­east Ari­zona.

Barber is one of Re­pub­lic­ans’ top tar­gets this cycle after beat­ing Mc­Sally by less than 1 per­cent­age point in 2012. Thanks to that race, Barber has only a minor name-iden­ti­fic­a­tion ad­vant­age. The poll found that 92 per­cent of re­spond­ents were fa­mil­i­ar with Barber, while 76 per­cent were fa­mil­i­ar with Mc­Sally. That num­ber will start go­ing up soon: Mc­Sally’s cam­paign will be­gin air­ing tele­vi­sion ads tout­ing her mil­it­ary ex­per­i­ence and plans for the dis­trict dur­ing the World Cup

Barber also does not have quite the cash ad­vant­age that oth­er in­cum­bents have, lead­ing Mc­Sally $1.2 mil­lion to $847,000 at the end of March.

But the Demo­crat­ic poll showed more 2nd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict voters with fa­vor­able views to­ward Barber than to­ward Mc­Sally. Barber was rated fa­vor­ably by 49 per­cent of re­spond­ents and un­fa­vor­ably by 28 per­cent; Mc­Sally’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing was 32 per­cent to 28 per­cent un­fa­vor­able. It also found that Barber had a 56 per­cent pos­it­ive and 37 per­cent neg­at­ive job rat­ing, bet­ter than those of Pres­id­ent Obama, Gov. Jan Brew­er, or Sen. John Mc­Cain.

The race has at­trac­ted sig­ni­fic­ant at­ten­tion from out­side groups. Amer­ic­ans For Prosper­ity went on air early, in Oc­to­ber 2013, cri­ti­ciz­ing Barber with TV ads dur­ing the troubled launch of Health­Care.gov more than a year be­fore the elec­tion.

Then the LIBRE Ini­ti­at­ive an­nounced in March that it would spend about $500,000 against Barber, also run­ning ads fo­cus­ing on Barber’s sup­port of Obama­care.

House Ma­jor­ity PAC de­fen­ded Barber with TV ads de­cry­ing the “at­tack ads “¦ paid for by out-of-state bil­lion­aires try­ing to fool you.” The group has spent $219,000 back­ing Barber, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

The race has primar­ily pit­ted Mc­Sally’s unique back­ground against Barber’s re­li­able breaks with his party to please the dis­trict’s mod­er­ate elect­or­ate. (The 2nd Dis­trict is 1 of just 9 in the coun­try that voted for both Mitt Rom­ney and a Demo­crat­ic rep­res­ent­at­ive in the 2012 elec­tions.) Mc­Sally was the first fe­male Air Force fight­er pi­lot to fly in com­bat, which has matched well with her fo­cus on sav­ing the Air Force’s A-10 jet, a staple at Tuc­son’s Dav­id-Monthan Air Force Base, from be­ing re­tired. But she has also been cri­ti­cized for be­ing vague on her po­s­i­tions, de­clin­ing to say how she would have voted on the gov­ern­ment shut­down last year.

Barber has only held the seat since the middle of 2012. He pre­vi­ously worked as an aide to Rep. Gab­ri­elle Gif­fords be­fore the Janu­ary 2011 shoot­ing that killed six and wounded 14 oth­ers, in­clud­ing Gif­fords and Barber, be­fore go­ing on to re­place Gif­fords in a spe­cial elec­tion the next year.

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