Election Day: Special election for Giffords House seat in AZ, primary in VA

Two interesting elections will take place today, more than 2,000 miles apart.  One is a primary fight in a swing state, and the other a special election that will serve as a dry run for a repeat in November, when the stakes matter a lot more.  Let’s start with the special US House election in Arizona, where voters in the southern end of the state have to choose the temporary replacement for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Democrat who was gravely wounded in a Tucson shooting and had to retire:

Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly made a last-ditch plea for votes ahead of Tuesday’s special election to succeed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as an independent poll showed Barber poised to win.

With momentum apparently in his favor, Barber spent the day trying to mobilize his get-out-the-vote operation and avoid complacency. The tea party-backed Kelly went on a popular conservative talk radio show and pressed his case that Barber would be a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama. …

With around 35 percent of the Southern Arizona district’s voters already casting early ballots, Democrats said they were launching an aggressive campaign to reach out to those who remained undecided. Barber’s campaign, which has set up volunteer staging centers throughout the district, claimed that it had placed about 48,000 phone calls to voters over the weekend and knocked on around 10,00 doors.

Given the circumstances of the special election, it comes as no great shock that PPP shows Barber with a double-digit lead over Kelly, 53/41, in a survey taken this weekend.  Although AZ-08 is an R+4 district, it sent Giffords to Congress for three terms, the last one cut tragically short.  Barber, her aide, is a sentimental favorite to complete Giffords’ last term in office.

However, Kelly’s efforts aren’t going to waste.  Even if Barber wins, he will have to run for re-election in November — and the turnout model may be very different from today.  This district has supported Republicans in presidential elections for the last three cycles, including a six-point margin for favorite son John McCain against Barack Obama in 2008, when Obama won the national popular vote by seven points.  That’s why Barber initially refused to answer when asked which candidate would get his vote in November:

He’s since endorsed Obama, who recruited him for this position — although he didn’t sound too keen in doing so last night:

Kelly’s job today is to build his organization in order to challenge Barber in November. If he can cut Barber’s margin of victory to single digits, that will be a good sign.

The other race today takes place in Virginia, where Tea Party organizer Jamie Radtke takes on former Senator and Governor George Allen for the Republican nomination in the US Senate race.  Her task is to prevent the “coronation” of Allen, but it’s going to be tough:

Polls, pundits and the press all see Tuesday’s RepublicanSenate primary is little more than a partisan coronation for former Sen. George Allen.

Mr. Allen’s three lesser-known primary rivals — all running to his right on issues of federal spending and debt — dispute the coronation. Each contends they will rock Virginia politics by unifying conservatives against Democrat Tim Kaine in November’s election for retiring one-term Sen. Jim Webb’s seat.

Tea party leader Jamie Radtke says conservatives across the state have quietly come to accept her claim that Allen is a GOP disaster-in-waiting if he’s nominated because Democrat Tim Kaine will batter him as a free-spending hypocrite during his earlier Senate term, just as she has for months. Kaine is unopposed for his party’s nomination.

“It’s insane to keep electing the same officials who created the mess,” said Ms. Radtke, who claims Mr. Allen was part of a fully RepublicanCongress during George W. Bush’s Republican presidency that spent liberally and ran up record deficits a decade ago.

She accurately notes Mr. Allen’s role in passing tens of thousands of spending earmarks while he was in the Senate, and Allen himself has publicly concede that spending then was out of control. The more than 50,000 specifically funded pet projects enacted during that time, however, were buried in massive federal budgets and appropriations bills that were before Congress, not individual measures.

I’ve interviewed Radtke on a couple of occasions.  She’s a tough competitor, but the question will be whether Virginia Republicans are ready for a Tea Party candidate.  Allen will have a lot of name recognition and a sense of a “safe” candidate (the “macaca” incident notwithstanding) against Tim Kaine, and of course will be helped by Virginia’s relatively moderate political positioning.  Radtke could pull a surprise here, but she’ll need a perfect storm of circumstances to do it.  Keep an eye on this race tonight to see what the GOP turnout looks like as a harbinger of the base enthusiasm for the November election.  Republicans desperately need Virginia to beat Obama, and it will take a lot of empassioned voters to make that happen.

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