Democrats are slamming 8th Congressional District Republican candidate Jesse Kelly for what they say are major changes in his stance on privatizing Social Security and Medicare designed to woo seniors turned off by his previous positions.
Kelly’s spokesman John Ellinwood on Friday called the candidate’s most recent statements a “clarification,” saying Kelly just wanted to assure seniors that he supports honoring the government’s commitment.
Kelly held a press conference this week with a group of seniors and said he plans to strengthen the programs and that he opposes any privatizations.
During his 2010 run for Congress, Kelly called for privatization of both Social Security and Medicare.
Kelly is running an ad targeting Democrat Ron Barber for supporting the federal health care overhaul, which cuts money from Medicare Advantage plans. Barber has said he wants that money restored.
Seniors are especially important in the district because of the large number of retirees and former military personnel. The district also tends to support moderate candidates such as Giffords and her Republican predecessor, Jim Kolbe.
Kelly is a strong tea party conservative. Barber has gone out of his way to tout support from Republican allies.
The two are engaged in a heated campaign to replace Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She stepped down in January to focus on her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head suffered in a shooting rampage in Tucson last year. Barber, a former Giffords aide, also was injured in that attack.
Early voting in the special election to replace her begins May 17 and election Day is June 12.
The national GOP and Democratic parties have been pouring money into the race. The Democratic National Congressional Committee has dedicated $473,000 to buy television ads targeting Kelly. While the Republican National Congressional Committee has bought $299,000 in TV time, officials say they’re outspending the DCCC two to one in some crucial time periods.
Barber’s campaign sent out a statement highlighting what they said was Kelly’s position change. During his effort to unseat Giffords in 2010, Kelly repeatedly said he wanted the programs privatized and phased out, calling them “Ponzi schemes.”
But on his 2012 campaign website this week, Kelly said: “I support preserving, protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare. I do not support privatizing, eliminating or phasing out these programs in any way. I will fully honor our commitment to current retirees and will not support any plan that impacts their benefits. We must also ensure these programs are preserved for future retirees.”
Barber’s campaign distributed statements it said were previously posted on the site showing that Kelly was still at least partially supporting privatization, saying younger workers should have the choice of putting some of their Social Security taxes into private accounts.
“Jesse Kelly has told seniors exactly what he wants to do with Social Security and Medicare: privatize it and phase it out,” Barber spokeswoman Jessica Schultz said in a statement. “He said it on TV during a debate and he said we had no choice — his exact words were, ‘It must be done!’ “
Kelly spokesman John Ellinwood said Kelly’s position has not changed.
“It’s very simple,” Ellinwood said. “Jesse wanted to clarify his position that he supports honoring our commitment to our seniors and the benefits they’ve earned.”
Ellinwood also said Kelly plans to repeal the health care overhaul, which he called a threat to Social Security and Medicare and a threat to access to care.