Jesse Kelly won a special primary election in Arizona on Tuesday, securing the Republican nomination to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D).
Kelly, an Iraq war veteran and project manager, edged out three other Republicans all vying to finish the term of Giffords, who stepped down in January — one year after an assassination attempt in her Tucson, Ariz., district left her critically wounded.
Democrat Ron Barber won his party’s nomination to replace Giffords on Tuesday. The former district director for Giffords, Barber was shot twice in the January 2011 shooting spree that wounded Giffords and killed six people. Giffords personally asked Barber to run to replace her, and he ran unopposed in the primary.
Kelly’s success in the primary ensures that Barber will face fierce opposition in his bid to replace Giffords. Kelly ran against Giffords in 2010 and came within 2 points of defeating her. The district is competitive for both parties, and Republicans have indicated they plan to seriously contest the race.
A favorite of the Tea Party, Kelly has not previously held elected office.
In a statement released late Tuesday, Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Bill Roe blasted Kelly as the winner of a “Tea Party primary that banged the drums of extremism."
“If Jesse Kelly could not ride the wave to Congress in the Republican flood of 2010, he is not viable in 2012,” said Roe. “Many moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats in southern Arizona will reject his extremism in favor of Ron Barber's solid plan to rebuild the middle class.”
In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, which prompted a national conversation about civility in the political discourse, Kelly was criticized for a gun-themed event he had held the year earlier. Supporters were invited to help remove Giffords from office by attending an event where they could shoot an M-16 assault weapon with Kelly.
Barber and Kelly will square off in a June special election to determine who will carry out the rest of Giffords’s term, which expires at the end of the year.
A separate, regular election will take place under redrawn congressional lines in the fall for the full term that starts in 2013. The winner of the special election will be eligible to also run for the full term.