TUCSON, Ariz. – Tuesday’s message was clear. Voters in southern Arizona’s Republican-leaning 8th Congressional District resoundingly defeated the candidate who threatened to abolish Social Security and Medicare.

The June 13 special election to finish the remaining term of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords pitted Democrat Ron Barber against tea-party Republican Jesse Kelly and Green candidate Charlie Manolakis.

Barber won 52 percent of the vote versus 46 percent for Kelly, in a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by 26,000. Manolakis received 2 percent of the vote.

This special election result can be seen as an indication that the American people are fed up with corporate and extremist attacks, and it could set the tone for November.  

Kelly was considered by many to be the most far-right candidate for Congress in the entire country in 2010 when he lost lost to Giffords by a mere 1.2 percent of the vote. This time around he moderated his positions a little in return for national GOP and corporate millions funding ads created by experts at double-speak.

Barber, who was manager of Giffords’ Tucson congressional office, was one of those wounded in the January 2011 shooting in which Giffords suffered a major head injury. That led to her resignation early this year.

While Giffords’ support for Barber and the sympathy vote were factors in Tuesday’s election results, they can’t entirely explain the landslide victory in a district where Republican registrations outnumber Democrats by over 5 percent.

Clearly, Barber’s continued stressing of the threat posed by Kelly to Social Security and Medicare won the day.  Barber also benefited from more than 400 volunteers who made thousands of phone calls and braved triple-digit Arizona summer temperatures to knock on doors and urge people to mail in their ballots early. Local union activists mobilized heavily to turn out volunteers. The strategy resulted in Barber leading Kelly by 9 percent among the 75 percent who voted early.   

And now it will start all over again as Barber will prepare for reelection in November with a primary on Aug. 28.

Kelly, who had been saying he intends to run again in November, is reputedly rethinking after the severe loss.


Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is Director, Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.