Republicans who have crossed party lines to back Democrat Ron Barber said Tuesday that Barber is the bipartisan problem-solver needed in Congressional District 8.

Former Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup said Barber's sincerity and dedication to the people in the district are what prompted him to back the Democrat rather than fellow Republican Jesse Kelly in the June 12 special election.

"He understands the value of the common good," Walkup said during a press conference.

Walkup was joined Tuesday by several other well-known Republicans from Southern Arizona, including former state legislator Pete Hershberger; City Councilman Steve Kozachik; former TUSD board member Laura Almquist; and Alex Jácome, former government liaison for the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association. Barber has endorsements from 23 Republicans, said spokeswoman Jessica Schultz.

Voter registration figures show Barber will need to get votes from Republicans and independents to win. Republicans account for 38 percent of registered voters in CD8, compared with 32 percent Democrats and 30 percent independents.

Hershberger said Barber appeals to moderate Republicans and independents who don't support Kelly because he represents the tea party branch of the Republican Party that doesn't speak for them.

"Ron is the exact candidate that they want," Hershberger said. "They want a reasonable, common-sense approach to government, not the ideological bomb thrower."

Among Republicans who have endorsed Kelly are the three candidates he defeated to win the nomination, as well as GOP political action committees. Kelly has not touted a similar list of high-profile Democrats crossing over to support him.

Kelly's spokesman, John Ellinwood, said in a statement the campaign is "honored to have the support of voters from all parties who want lower taxes, a stronger economy and lower gas prices."

Barber said his campaign will also be trying to persuade independent voters with a message of bipartisanship.

"What we want is people who are going to run first and foremost as Americans without a party label that is going to hold them back or make them do certain things that are not in the best interest of their community," he said.

Early ballots go out on May 17 in the CD8 special election. Voters will be choosing between Barber and Kelly and Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis to complete the term of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned in January to focus on her recovery from being shot in the head.

Both Barber and Kelly plan to run in the new CD2 in November.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or