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Race to replace Giffords too close to call

PHOENIX — The race to replace former Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is too close to call, said a Valley political strategist.

This race pits Giffords’ former aide, Ron Barber, against the Tea Party candidate, Jesse Kelly, who narrowly missed beating Giffords in 2010.

Ahead of the November presidential election, there are only two cases this year where voters will cast ballots in elections that could provide a clue about the mood of the electorate and the nation, said strategist Mike O’Neil.

The first of these was the Wisconsin recall election, in which Republican Gov. Scott Walker withstood an attempt to oust him from office. The second is the race for the remainder of Rep. Giffords term, which will be held Tuesday.

“If this district were a state, it would be classified as a presidential tossup,” said O’Neil.

According to O’Neil, Republicans have tried to nationalize the vote, linking Barber to “Obamacare” and Kelly has also enjoyed a financial advantage.

“Of course [Barber] didn’t vote for Obamacare, he wasn’t in office,” he said.

Barber may be aided by Gifford’s endorsement and goodwill in the district for her since the January 2011 shooting.

“A Kelly win would likely be seen as indicating a Republican tidal wave,” said O’Neil. “A Barber win would produce, in effect, a split decision, from which it would be difficult to impute much of a national trend.”

The winner will serve the six months remaining in Gifford’s term, which ends in January.

In November, a likely rematch will occur in a redrawn district. The participants in that election will be chosen in an August primary.

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