The increasingly rancorous race between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly for Arizona’s vacant 8th Congressional District seat goes before a live audience Wednesday night for the first time.
Barber, Kelly and Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis will face off in a Tucson debate co-sponsored by The Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Jewish Community Center. It’s being held amid a flurry of television ads by the candidates and their parties.
The three are running in the June 12 special election for the U.S. House seat formerly held by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. She resigned Jan. 25 to concentrate on her recovery from a Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that left her critically wounded.
The first debate, held May 16 in a television studio, featured sharp exchanges between Barber and Kelly as each accused the other of lying about positions on issues such as the health care overhaul, the future of Social Security and energy policy.
During a 2010 campaign that he narrowly lost to Giffords, Kelly called for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. But he recently said he opposes privatization and wants to assure seniors that he supports honoring the government’s commitment to the social-welfare programs.
The candidate’s new positioning, which a Kelly spokesman called a “clarification” by the Republican nominee, drew fire from Barter who said Kelly was trying to hide his record.
Meanwhile, Kelly has criticized Barber on the health care overhaul, which Kelly said threatens Medicare.
Kelly has called for repealing the overhaul, which he said Barber supports.
Barber has said he’d work to change parts of the overhaul if elected, but he also said during last week’s debate he didn’t know how he would have voted on the overhaul when Congress approved it.
Giffords voted for the overhaul, and Barber spoke on her behalf in favor of it.
On energy, Barber has said he’ll push to promote the solar energy while Kelly says the United States should take a broad-based approach that focuses on developing oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear resources.
Recent television advertising for Barber has sought to portray Kelly as too conservative for the district, while pro-Kelly advertising has attempted to paint Barber as a minion for President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Barber is Giffords’ hand-picked replacement and her former district director. He also was wounded in the 2011 shooting that occurred during a meet-the-congresswoman event at a Tucson shopping center.
Kelly works for his family’s construction company. A tea party favorite, Kelly defeated three other Republicans in the special election’s April 17 primary to advance to the special election’s second stage.
Barber was unopposed in the primary.
The special election will choose who will serve out the last half-year of Giffords’ term. Both Barber and Kelly also are running in fall elections that will determine who will serve a full two-year term in what will be the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District.
Republicans have a registration edge in the district, which includes much of Tucson and Green Valley, Sierra Vista and Douglas.