Tea party Republican Jesse Kelly on Thursday dropped out of the race for Gabrielle Giffords’ former seat in Congress, two days after losing a special election to serve out her term.
Kelly said in a statement that he decided to withdraw after “looking at the results from Tuesday.” He lost the special election to Rob Barber, a former Giffords’ staffer and fellow mass shooting survivor.
Kelly lost to Barber by six percentage points — a decisive victory considering that the district has 25,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, voted for Republicans the last two presidential elections, and that Kelly very nearly unseated Giffords herself in their 2010 campaign fight.
Barber was expected to be sworn into Congress next week. He doesn’t face a challenger in the primary but will have to win over voters again in the Nov. 6 general election.
“This stinks,” Kelly told his supporters Tuesday night during his concession speech.
Democrats are pointing to Barber’s victory as proof that voters are rejecting extremist Republican ideas while Republicans said that Barber won because of voter emotions over the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting in Tucson that nearly killed him and Giffords.
During the campaign for the special election, Republicans tried to make the contest a referendum on President Barack Obama and his handling of the economy. Democrats played to the senior vote by reminding them that Kelly called for privatization of both Social Security and Medicare during his 2010 run against Giffords.
Kelly backed off those statements for the special election, saying at a news conference with a group of seniors that he planned to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and opposed any privatizations.
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.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Barber won about 52 percent of the vote while Kelly had 46 percent.
Giffords threw her support behind Barber and dashed back to Tucson during the last days of the campaign to help her former district director. She was at a Tucson hotel Tuesday night as Barber told supporters: “Life takes unexpected turns and here we are, thanks to you.”
A beaming Giffords hugged him and kissed his forehead.
Kelly thanked his wife and supporters in his announcement, and said he would “seek other opportunities.”