Ron Barber (center) is favored in a new poll of the Arizona special election. (Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images)

The poll, the first of the race to be released publicly, shows former Giffords aide Ron Barber (D) leading Iraq veteran Jesse Kelly (R) 53 percent to 41 percent.

The survey appears to indicate a significantly different picture than either of the two parties involved have seen in their recent polling.

One strategist close to the race said that a Democratic internal poll conducted in the last 10 days showed the race around to the margin of error, and neither side is expressing confidence that their side will win.

Still, the poll suggests the Democrats are in position to hold a Republican-leaning district in what is likely to be the only major special congressional election of the 2012 calendar year — one that analysts will undoubtedly look to for clues about the electoral landscape.

Democrats’ efforts to tar Kelly with his past positions calling for reforming and/or scaling back Medicare and Social Security appear to have paid dividends, with the PPP poll showing Kelly’s unfavorable rating (59 percent) significantly higher than his favorable rating (37 percent).

If those numbers are even close to accurate, it will be hard for Kelly to win on Tuesday.

One variable to keep in mind, though, is that many (and potentially most) voters have already cast their ballots in the race — a fact that makes polling the race significantly more difficult.

The winner will serve the remainder of Giffords term but will be up for reelection in November.