Voters in southeastern Arizona head to the polls Tuesday in a special election to replace Gabrielle Giffords, the Tucson Democrat who was nearly killed in a deadly January 2011 shooting spree. Both parties say it's a tight race between former Giffords aide Ron Barber, who was also injured in the attack, and Republican Jesse Kelly, a Tea Party-backed Iraq veteran who nearly beat Giffords in 2010. Giffords, who resigned in January to focus on her recovery, has stumped for Barber, and a late poll suggests he's the favorite. But outside conservative groups have spent $1.3 million in a bid to pick up the seat for the GOP. Will that be enough to overcome Tucson's sympathy for Giffords?
The GOP can't overcome voters' warm feelings for Giffords: On paper, there are plenty of reasons Republicans should be able to win, says Alex Isenstadt at Politico. They have 26,000 more registered voters, and conservative groups have spent a fortune framing the race as a referendum on President Obama, who remains unpopular in the district. But Barber's ties to Giffords make him a "deeply sympathetic figure," and it looks like that will trump "partisan talking points and outside money."
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Hold on. Sympathy won't decide this election: The vote won't "hinge on what happened that tragic day at the Safeway in Tucson," says Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. As one Democratic strategist put it, "sympathy doesn't win elections," as the party saw when it lost Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat in 2010, just months after the liberal lion's death. Both parties agree the Arizona election won't be about the shooting, which is why they're treating it as a "pure toss-up" with national implications.
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Whatever happens, this race is no bellwether: "Democrats need some good news," says Chad Pergram at Fox News, "and nothing buoys the party like a win in a swing district." And the truth is, "if Democrats are to have a prayer at reclaiming the House this fall, they need to keep this seat blue." But "special elections are just that: Special." We shouldn't read too much into Tuesday's results — particularly because the emotional element surrounding the shooting makes this Arizona race even less a test of the political winds than most special elections.
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