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Race for Gabrielle Giffords’ Arizona Congressional Seat Begins

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The primary for the special election in Arizona’s eighth congressional district -- the district formerly represented by Gabrielle Giffords -- takes place on Tuesday, with the special election to follow on June 12.

The Democratic field is already set.  Ron Barber, the former district director for Giffords, is running unopposed.  He has Giffords’ endorsement.

On the Republican side, there are currently four candidates in the race: State Sen. Frank Antenori; Martha McSally, a retired Air Force pilot; sports broadcaster Dave Sitton; and Jesse Kelly, a former Marine who ran unsuccessfully against Giffords in 2010.

Kelly is seen as the favorite to win the nomination again this time around; polling has placed him in the lead.  The National Republican Congressional Committee has remained neutral during the primary.

Barber, who was injured during the shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, has so far been a strong fundraiser, taking in over $500,000 through March 28, according to his Federal Election Commission disclosures -- far more than any of his Republican competitors.  He has not yet begun to advertise on television.

Political spectators outside the state might be tempted to assume that because of his fundraising advantage, and because he has the endorsement of Giffords, Barber will sail to victory on June 12.  However, the eighth congressional district of Arizona tends to lean Republican.  George W. Bush carried it in 2000 and 2004, and John McCain carried it in 2008.

Kelly has raised a little over $200,000 so far, and he mounted a strong fight against Giffords in 2010, losing the election by less than 2 percent.  Giffords got 48.7 percent of the vote, Kelly took 47.2 percent.

The race will likely be hard-fought, and Democrats and Republicans have begun painting their opponents as having political views which are too far left or right for the district.

Turnout is expected to be low in the primary, and low in the general election, party officials say.

After the special election, the winner will not have very much time to acclimate to their new job in Washington, D.C.  The seat will be up for grabs in the general election in November as well.

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