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Jesse Kelly drops out of race for Giffords’ seat

PHOENIX – Tea party Republican Jesse Kelly on Thursday dropped out of the
race for Gabrielle Giffords’ former seat in Congress, two days after losing a
special election to serve out her term.

Kelly said in a statement that he decided to withdraw after “looking at the
results from Tuesday.” He lost the Congressional District 8 special election to
Rob Barber, a former Giffords staffer and fellow mass shooting survivor.

Kelly lost to Barber by 6 percentage points _ a decisive victory considering
that the district has 25,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, voted
for Republicans the last two presidential elections, and that Kelly very nearly
unseated Giffords herself in their 2010 campaign fight.

Barber was expected to be sworn into Congress next week. He faces at least one
challenger in the August primary in state Rep. Matt Heinz, who confirmed
Thursday that he’s still in the race. Two other Democrats dropped out in recent
months _ state Sen. Paula Aboud in March and political newcomer Nomiki Konst in
May.

The general election for the newly drawn Congressional District 2 is Nov. 6.

Republican candidates for the Aug. 28 primary are expected to include retired
Air Force Col. Martha McSally and political newcomer Mark Koskiniemi. McSally
finished second to Kelly in April’s District 8 primary.

“This stinks,” Kelly told his supporters Tuesday night during his concession
speech after Barber surged ahead in the vote totals.

Democrats are pointing to Barber’s victory as proof that voters are rejecting
extremist Republican ideas, while Republicans said that Barber won because of
voter emotions over the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting in Tucson that nearly killed
him and Giffords.

During the campaign for the special election, Republicans tried to make the
contest a referendum on President Barack Obama and his handling of the economy.
Democrats played to the senior vote by reminding them that Kelly called for
privatization of both Social Security and Medicare during his 2010 run against
Giffords.

Kelly backed off those statements for the special election, saying at a news
conference with a group of seniors that he planned to strengthen Social Security
and Medicare and opposed any privatizations.

Seniors are especially important in the district because of the large number of
retirees and former military personnel. The district also tends to support
moderate candidates.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Barber won about 52 percent of the
vote while Kelly had 46 percent.

Giffords threw her support behind Barber and dashed back to Tucson during the
last days of the campaign to help her former district director. She was at a
Tucson hotel Tuesday night as Barber told supporters, “Life takes unexpected
turns, and here we are, thanks to you.”

A beaming Giffords hugged him and kissed his forehead.

Kelly thanked his wife and supporters in his announcement and said he would
“seek other opportunities.”

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP .