What Lies Ahead: The Fight To Complete Gabby Giffords' Congressional Term

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Voters are headed to the polls today to decide which GOP candidate is going to take on Democrat Ron Barber in the June 12 special election to finish the rest of Gabrielle Giffords’ congressional term.

Yesterday, we saw the release of a general election poll that showed Republican Jesse Kelly—the GOP nominee in 2010 who narrowly lost to Giffords—beating Barber by 4 percentage points. The match-up had Kelly at 49 percent, while Barber was at 45 percent.

The survey also showed that Barber—a longtime aide to Giffords who was wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage that left six dead and 13 wounded, including Giffords—was 4 percentage points ahead of sports broadcaster Dave Sitton, 6 percentage points ahead of state Sen. Frank Antenori and tied with former Air Force fighter pilot Martha McSally.

The poll, conducted by National Research Inc, had a small sample size—300 “likely voters”—so it had a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points. That means that nearly all the match-ups of the candidates fell within the margin of error.

Kelly spokesman John Ellinwood said the campaign did not commission the poll, but added that it showed "Jesse's ideas and proposals to lower taxes, grow the economy and lower gas prices have been received well by the voters."

Meanwhile, Jessica Schultz of the Barber campaign told The Range yesterday via email: “No matter who emerges from tomorrow's primary, Ron is going to continue to run a strong campaign to support Southern Arizona's middle class families, defend Social Security and Medicare, and ensure that our veterans get the benefits they've earned.”

So how legit is the poll? The pollster, National Research Inc., was last seen in CD8 polling Republicans before the 2010 primary on behalf of Conservatives for Congress, a political operation that ran ads hammering Republican Jonathan Paton in the 2010 GOP primary that Kelly won.

That survey, taken around the time that early voting started in the primary, showed that Kelly had the support 36 percent of the voters, while Paton (a former state lawmaker who is now running for Congress in the new Congressional District 1) had the support of just 17 percent—a 19-point lead.

On election day, Kelly beat Paton by 6 percentage points, getting 48 percent of the vote to Paton’s 42 percent.

So in that case, either the poll was way off and tilted in Kelly’s direction or the numbers moved a lot during the campaign.

The Skinny has only seen one other general election poll that could be considered a baseline. Taken in February and released by Kelly’s own campaign, the survey showed that Kelly was leading Barber, 45 percent to 38 percent. (It also surveyed 300 “likely voters” and had a margin of error of 5.7 percent.)

So if you take that February poll as a baseline, Barber’s 45 percent in the National Research survey shows that he’s closing the gap with Kelly.

You can take all these polling numbers to mean whatever you want. (Michael Bryan of Blog for Arizona says they don’t mean anything at all.)

The bottom line: Whether the GOP nominee is Kelly or any of the others, the race to complete Giffords' term is going to be competitive. It’s a special election, which means that turnout is likely to be low. It’s a still a Republican district and we’d guess (without seeing any particular recent polls), that there’s still plenty of anger toward Washington in general and Barack Obama in particular.

But there’s also a wellspring of goodwill toward Gabby, so her endorsement will count for a lot. Barber has a huge cash advantage because the GOP candidates have had to drain their bank accounts in the primary (if they managed to raise any money in the first place), while Barber has raised more than a half-million he can now deploy to build his name ID and offer an alternative image to voters.

With its close voter registration, CD8 will be a bellwether for 2012 elections, so you can expect a national spotlight to descend, once again, on Southern Arizona.

We’re seeing a little of it already. Here’s Slate's Dave Weigel’s take on the poll:


The current version of this district is going to stop existing at the end of 2012. In November, voters will get their crack at a more Democratic-leading district that captures part of Tucson and the border. But — sorry, this is obvious — Democrats aren't going to sit on their war chest and allow the Republican that Giffords beat in 2010 take the seat that a failed assassin took away from her.

We expect a lot of money to come flowing into Southern Arizona on political ads. The Arizona Republican Party is already being used as a vehicle to hammer away at Barber, with more than $100,000 being spent on robocalls and mailers. (We're guessing the money is coming from the NRCC, but we suppose we'll find out soon enough.)

Here’s the press release on the poll:

(Holmdel, NJ) — Just days before the April 17th GOP congressional primary to determine the candidates for the June 12th special election to fill the remainder of Rep, Gabrielle Giffords’ seat, a new survey shows that Jesse Kelly would be the strongest Republican to face Democrat Ron Barber in June.

The survey, conducted among 300 likely June voters, uncovered the following:

Jesse Kelly defeats Ron Barber 49%-45% in a ballot matchup.

On the other hand, Barber defeats Dave Sitton 43%-39%. Barber ties Martha McSally, with both garnering 42%. And Barber defeats Frank Antenori, 46%-40%.

Kelly has a higher name ID (93%) and higher favorable rating (43%) than any of the other Republicans, meaning he would not have to spend nearly the amount of money that other candidates would, introducing themselves to voters.

The poll was conducted by National Research Inc. of Holmdel, New Jersey. Adam Geller, the firm’s CEO, commented on the findings. “Jesse Kelly seems to have made a lasting impression in the minds of voters, and it seems to be paying off now. The combination of Kelly’s advantage in name ID, favorable ratings, and of course ballot advantage makes it clear that Kelly is the most formidable of the bunch in the June general election.”


National Research Inc. conducted a telephone survey of 300 likely special election voters in Arizona’s 8th congressional district. The survey was conducted on April 12, 2012. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 5.66%.
National Research Inc. is a political and corporate polling firm, whose client list includes Governor Chris Christie, various members of Congress, and top corporations in telecommunications, energy, retail and casino gaming.


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