This story has been updated
Ron Barber, the former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) staffer who is now running to succeed his old boss in Congress, declined to say Wednesday night whether he plans to vote for President Obama in the fall.
In a 75-minute debate ahead of the June 12 special election to fill out the remainder of Giffords’s term, Barber was asked by Republican Jesse Kelly how he planned to cast his ballot in November.
After a three-second pause, Barber responded: “My vote is my vote, Mr. Kelly, as yours is, too. And I will not be talking about other elections. I’m focused on beating you on June 12.”
Jessica Schultz, a spokeswoman for Barber, said in a statement Thursday that Barber does, in fact, plan to vote for Obama in the fall.
“Ron’s point last night was that the election on June 12 isn’t about President Obama, or any other national figure -- it’s about who is going to do the best job fighting for middle class families in southern Arizona,” Schultz said. “While Ron does not agree with the President on everything, of course Ron has supported and will support President Obama in the election. His primary focus as a member of Congress will be standing up for Southern Arizonans.”
Barber, 66, was among those shot in the January 2011 Tucson shooting that took the lives of six and left 13 wounded. He announced earlier this year that he would run both in the special election for Giffords’s seat as well as the general election for a full two-year term.
The audience at Wednesday’s debate greeted Barber’s response with applause. The comment underscores the difficulty the Democrat faces in a race that’s expected to be one of the most competitive of the cycle.
Giffords won re-election to the seat by 2 percentage points in 2010, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) bested Obama to win the district with 52 percent in 2008.
Some Democratic candidates in tough races this cycle — including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in Ohio and former DNC chairman Tim Kaine in Virginia — have embraced Obama and have even hit the campaign trail with him. But others, such as Barber and North Dakota Democratic Senate hopeful Heidi Heitkamp, have kept their distance — a reminder of the president’s unpopularity in some states.