Jesse Kelly wins GOP nod for Giffords special election

Iraq veteran Jesse Kelly won the Republican nomination in the special election for former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) seat on Tuesday and will face former Giffords aide Ron Barber (D) in the June 12 race.

Kelly, who fell to Giffords by about 4,000 votes in 2010, turned aside a field of opponents that included state Sen. Frank Antenori, broadcaster Dave Sitton and former Air Force pilot Martha McSally.

With nearly half of the vote counted, Kelly led McSally 38 percent to 24 percent. Antenori followed at 21 percent, and Sitton was fourth with 17 percent. AP has called the race for Kelley.

Kelly will enter the race as most observers’ underdog, given Barber’s ties to Giffords and the outpouring of sympathy for her, Barber, and others after they survived an assassination attempt on Giffords in January 2011. But the district leans conservative, and a GOP poll this week showed Kelly narrowly leading Barber, 49 percent to 45 percent.

The winner of the special election will serve out Giffords’s term. The congresswoman resigned earlier this year to focus on her recovery from serious injuries sustained in the assassination attempt.

The Tucson-based district will change for the November election, when redistricting will make it a couple points more Democratic.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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