Democrat Ron Barber's decisive defeat of Republican Jesse Kelly in Tuesday's special election has people wondering what the Pima County GOP will do in the newly drawn Congressional District 2.
Kelly, who has now lost two straight congressional elections, said Wednesday through his spokesman that he's spending time with his family and "prayerfully reflecting on the future." He expects to make an announcement in the next day or two, he said.
No matter what Kelly decides, retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally is launching her campaign for the Aug. 28 GOP primary. McSally finished second to Kelly in the CD8 primary but actually had more votes than Kelly on election day.
It would obviously be easier for McSally if she could avoid the rigors of a primary battle with Kelly, but she's confident she'll beat Kelly if she has to, said her spokesman, Sam Stone.
"The more voters are exposed to Martha McSally, the more they like her," Stone said.
Also on the GOP ballot is Mark Koskiniemi, a political newcomer who works in the Pima County Procurement Department.
Kelly lost by 7 percentage points to Barber in Tuesday's Congressional District 8 special election. Barber garnered 52 percent of the votes compared with Kelly's 45 percent.
The 13,000-vote differential was much larger than Kelly's narrow loss to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2010. Kelly lost then by about 4,000 votes.
In the Democratic CD2 primary, Barber won't have the luxury of running unopposed this time because state Rep. Matt Heinz is staying in the race. Barber was the best choice to complete Giffords' term, Heinz said, but now voters should have choices as they embark on choosing a congressman for a full two-year term.
"We need to figure out who the best person is to represent and advocate for Southern Arizona for the long term, and that means for the next decade," said Heinz, pointing out that Jim Kolbe served more than two decades in Congress, and that Giffords might have been done the same had she not been wounded in the January 2011 mass shooting.
Heinz, a Tucson doctor, said the primary will better prepare him or Barber for the Nov. 6 general election.
"All competitive elections - generals, primaries - are a good thing for democracy, and a great thing for our candidates and our parties," Heinz said.
Though early ballots go out in less than two months, on Aug. 2, Barber is focusing now on getting settled in as a congressman, said spokeswoman Jessica Schultz. He is likely to be sworn in to Congress on June 19, she said. She declined to comment about Heinz.
Barber's potential opponent in the Nov. 6 election, McSally, didn't spend the past two months just hiking with her dog, Penelope. She's been meeting with people in the district to learn more about a broad range of issues, Stone said.
She also watched the Barber-Kelly election closely, he said, with one takeaway being that voters want to hear about more than just one issue and get to know the candidates better, he said.
"They want to get some greater depth on who they are and what they believe," Stone said.
Stone said McSally would fare better against Barber, or Heinz, than Kelly because she has a different platform and represents herself differently from the way he did. "She has a much broader range of appeal," Stone said.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will be competing in a new congressional district in which the Republican advantage in the old CD8 nearly disappears.
In CD2, the percentage of registered Republicans, 34.7 percent, is slightly more than the percentage of registered Demo-crats, 34.2 percent.
In CD8, Republicans held a much larger advantage with 37.5 percent of the voters, compared with 31.5 percent for Democrats.
For now, everyone is waiting to find out what Kelly decides. Other than the statement he issued to the press, the only communication from him was this short message posted about 11 a.m. on his Twitter and Facebook accounts: "Thank you all for everything."
"We need to figure out who the best person is to represent and advocate for Southern Arizona for the long term, and that means for the next decade. … All competitive elections - generals, primaries - are a good thing for democracy, and a great thing for our candidates and our parties."
State Rep. Matt Heinz, who will compete against Barber in the August primary
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or email@example.com