Voters in Arizona voting to pick replacement for Rep. Gabby Giffords
Voters in southern Arizona are at the polls, picking who they want to serve out the balance of the term they elected Gabrielle Giffords to in 2010. Giffords resigned in January so she could focus her energy on recovering from the shooting that took the lives of six people and injured 13 more, including Giffords.
It's election day in Arizona's Eighth Congressional District — that's the district represented, until recently, by Gabriel Giffords.
Giffords was very nearly killed in a a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011. Giffords resigned from office in January to focus on her recovery and give her constituents a full-time representative in advance of the November elections, when someone will be elected to serve a full term. The winner of Tuesday's election will serve until January.
The candidates are Republican Jesse Kelly, who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010, and Democrat Ron Barber, a former Giffords aide. Kelly is promising to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. The GOP sees this as a chance to capture the former Democratic seat and bolster their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rebekah Sanders, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, said early balloting has been at record levels in this race, indicating huge turnout for this election.
"There was concern that being a special election at an odd time of the year, with a very short campaign for this seat, would provide low turnout. But it looks like people are really interested and the people of Southern Arizona feel that this is a really important election to be involved in," Sanders said.
Reflecting just how important this race is on a national level, Sanders said both Republicans and Democrats are pouring in money from out-of-state, in an effort to tip the election in their candidate's favor.
"Both parties see this as a potential feather in their cap, going into the fall elections. It's a swing district, which has slightly larger Republican registration. But really, the voters here go for either party," she said.
So far, millions of dollars have been spent between the candidates and outside entities.
Sanders says the candidates have been smart about how they positioned themselves in the wake of the tragedy. Kelly made waves for his gun-toting, uniform-wearing campaign mailings in 2010. This year, most of his mailing show him with his family. A TV ad pictures him with his grandfather.
"But he still has a lot of passion and is known for tough-guy rhetoric as well," Sanders said.
Barber, the former Giffords aide, was also wounded in the attack that nearly killed Giffords. He's also received support from Giffords and her husband in recent days, with the two appearing with him at campaign events.
"She's well-loved in the district on all sides of the aisle," Sanders said. "She really urged Ron to run. He was not, exactly, a willing candidate. But he did it for her, kind of."
Up until this weekend, Giffords had stayed quiet. But then she appeared at a concert, spoke with volunteers and even made calls to voters on Barber's behalf, Sanders said.
In addition to the two leading candidates, Charlie Manolakis is running with the backing of the Green Party.
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