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The Skinny

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DAY OF DECISION

On Tuesday, June 12, voters will finally have their say in the special election to complete Gabrielle Giffords' congressional term: Will they send Democrat Ron Barber, the former aide to Giffords, to Washington, D.C.? Or will they send Republican Jesse Kelly, who was Giffords' political nemesis over the last two years?

We've made our pick clear: We think that Barber will do a much better job of representing Southern Arizona. He knows the district well; he has the support of moderate Republicans who have seen the kind of work he did at Gabby's side; he understands the facts underlying real-world policy; and he's a fundamentally decent and sincere guy.

Kelly, as we've reported over the last few years, is skilled at delivering conservative talking points, but he's failed to demonstrate any ability to grapple with the issues facing both the nation and Southern Arizona. He has avoided in-depth interviews with the Tucson Weekly and the Arizona Daily Star, and he's made up a lot of nonsense on the campaign trail. He's willing to say anything if he thinks it will help him win next week.

Spending on both sides has topped $3 million; Barber managed to raise nearly $1.2 million as of May 23, which was almost twice Kelly's $666,000.

But Kelly's message was boosted by an aggressive, paint-by-numbers campaign by the National Republican Congressional Committee, Citizens United and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which combined to spend more than a million dollars on TV ads and mailers painting Barber as a big supporter of Obamacare, and as a puppet of the White House and Nancy Pelosi. Much of that has been focused on the GOP's favorite big lie: the assertion that the Affordable Care Act—and by extension, Barber—will cut $500 billion from Medicare.

Barber had his own backers out of Washington: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC (a Dem super-PAC) both dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads reinforcing the message that Jesse Kelly has a lot of crazy ideas, like privatizing Social Security, expecting elderly Americans to pick up the tab for their own health insurance in the future, and eliminating the minimum wage and corporate income taxes.

As this week began, House Majority PAC unleashed a new ad recapping some of Kelly's more-radical positions, and reminding viewers of Kelly's harsh assessment of Gabby during the 2010 election, when Kelly came within 4,200 votes of beating Giffords. They picked a 2010 quote that's sure to resonate in Southern Arizona: "And now she stands there with that smile and pretends to be some kind of hometown hero. She's a hero of nothing."

While Gabby encouraged Barber to seek the seat, we've seen relatively little of her during the campaign. She and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly (who, needless to say, is no relation to Jesse Kelly), have helped Barber raise funds, and Mark Kelly recorded a robo-call on Barber's behalf.

Gabby's image finally appeared on an Arizona Democratic Party mailer last week, and she's coming to town this weekend for her first local public appearance since she stepped down in January. She'll be at a get-out-the-vote concert at downtown's Rialto Theatre on Saturday, June 9, that's going to put a spotlight on the Barber campaign in the final weekend.

The concert, a free show from 5 to 8 p.m., will feature a lot of Gabby's favorite musicians in this town: Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta, Joey Burns and Jacob Valenzuela of Calexico, Salvador Duran and Kevin Pakulis.

By the time the show rolls around, a lot of people will have already cast their ballots. When we last checked the early ballots on Monday, June 4, about 50,000 Republicans had already voted, compared to roughly 45,000 Democrats, and 28,000 voters who belong to neither party.

The race is a dead heat, so you can expect both campaigns to keep pushing right up until the polls close on Tuesday.

The battle over the Congressional District 8 seat has been expensive and intense, but once the votes are counted, it's not really going to be over. Both candidates say they're going to be right back in the fight for the new Congressional District 2.

The new district loses the GOP precincts of SaddleBrooke, Oro Valley and Marana, and will be more or less evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. (For more on those dynamics, see this week's cover story on Page 16.)

If Kelly wins by a narrow margin, it will be easy for Barber to make the argument that the new district makes it possible for him to win in November, although he'll still have to get past state Rep. Matt Heinz in the Democratic primary.

But if Kelly loses, he's gonna have a hard time convincing people that he should get a third chance in a district that's less-favorable to him. Regardless, Kelly hasn't shown himself to be someone with a tight grasp on reality.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN SAN DIEGO

City Councilman Paul Cunningham is in a political jam after getting plastered on a recent Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities junket—er, fact-finding mission—to San Diego and making some remarks about the relative sexual attractiveness of a high-ranking city staffer, among other boorish comments.

Cunningham, a Democrat who represents eastside Ward 2, says he can't remember what he said, but he's been on an apology tour. He has acknowledged that he has a drinking problem and, on Friday, June 1, sent out a brief statement explaining that he "had too much to drink and said some things that might be considered inappropriate."

"I apologize for my behavior," Cunningham continued. "I have some personal issues that I'm dealing with. I will make amends to anyone I offended and to my constituents as best I can."

Beyond his brief statement and an interview with TucsonSentinel.com, Cunningham says he's not going to talk about the mess until an investigation by the city's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs is complete.

Cunningham is coming under fire from some of his fellow Democrats on the Tucson City Council. Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, who has been Cunningham's most-vocal critic, tells The Skinny that Cunningham is going to have to decide if he's still capable of representing his constituents.

The City Council was also set to discuss this week whether they should put in place some kind of ordinance or policy that holds them to the standards that normal city employees have to live by. As it now stands, Cunningham's fellow council members have no mechanism by which to sanction him for his misconduct, beyond a $50 fine.

The escapade is also shining a light on TREO and its highly paid president and chief executive officer, Joe Snell, who has been avoiding reporters since the story broke.

While TREO's support from the public sector has shrunk in recent years as the city and county have struggled with shrinking budgets, we're hearing from critics across the political spectrum who are questioning whether the organization is living up to expectations.

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