(PHOENIX) — Ron Barber, the former district director for Gabrielle Giffords, has won the special election for his old bosses’ seat.
For Barber, 66, victory is bittersweet. The top aide to Giffords was also injured in the grocery store shooting on January, 2011 — he was shot in the leg and the cheek.
Giffords endorsed Barber early on, and he was ultimately uncontested for his party’s nomination. He had strong fundraising, pulling in $1.2 million according to campaign finance disclosures, and was aided by the help of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spent over $400,000 on ads supporting his candidacy. However, his victory was far from certain.
The Arizona 8th congressional district — where Giffords had served since 2006 before resigning from Congress in January — leans Republican. The district voted for John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004. Giffords narrowly defeated Barber’s opponent Jesse Kelly in 2010 by a margin of roughly 2 percentage points — 49 percent to Kelly’s 47 percent.
Giffords actual presence in the campaign was limited. She campaigned with Barber over the weekend leading up to the election — a somewhat late appearance given that up to two-thirds of ballots were expected to be submitted via early voting — and she was featured on a mailer circulated by the Democratic Party of Arizona. Nevertheless, the former representative’s emotional and spiritual presence should not be underestimated.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement congratulating Barber on his victory.
“Congressman-elect Barber follows in the footsteps of our extraordinary colleague, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — and he has enormous shoes to fill. Gabby left a legacy of strength, resolve, and independence in the House. We look forward to Ron Barber continuing in that same tradition, and we congratulate him on a well-deserved victory tonight,” she said.
Barber will have to run again in the general election in November against an unknown Republican. However, next time he will be running in a different district — the 2nd congressional district — as a result of redistricting. The newly drawn district is considered to be more friendly to Democrats, so it is likely Barber’s seat will be safe come the fall.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jeremy Diamond, Jake Tapper, Phil Mattingly and Stephen Collinson, CNN Newswire
Eric Bradner, CNN Newswire