The race to succeed Gabrielle Giffords in Congress has turned into a localized debate over the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Ron Barber, a former Giffords staffer and the Democratic nominee in the June 15 special election, picked up an endorsement Monday from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. The liberal-leaning group picked Barber over Republican Jesse Kelly in a race where Barber and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have focused on the two programs.
"Ron has made his positions clear, he has not wavered from those positions," Phillip Rotondi, political director for NCPSSM's campaign arm, said in a conference call with reporters today. "We will be with him in this election and in November."
Barber and Democrats have seized statements Kelly made in his unsuccessful 2010 race against Giffords where he called for ending both programs. Last week, the DCCC unveiled a new television commercial in the district targeting Kelly's positions on the issue.
Kelly's 2012 campaign website, however, says the Republican supports "preserving, protecting and strengthening" Social Security and Medicare. His spokesman, John Ellinwood, told HuffPost that the Republican has a plan to fund the two programs by creating more energy sector jobs in order to generate the needed revenue.
"Jesse supports honoring our commitment to seniors with a plan to promote the economy using energy," he said.
Barber started his campaign in February focusing primarily on veterans and border security issues. The emphasis on Social Security and Medicare began after Kelly's victory in the April primary. During Monday's conference call, Barber said that he is still committed veterans and border security issues, but that conversations with voters, national GOP proposals, along with Kelly's campaign caused him to make Social Security and Medicare bigger parts of his campaign.
"What has happened over the last couple of months, my opponent and his allies have characterized my position in a false and misleading way," Barber said. "I have been a supporter of Medicare and Social Security for a long time."
Barber, who was injured in the January 2011 assassination attempt that severely injured Giffords, and Kelly are running in the June 15 election to win Giffords' seat for the remaining six months of her term in the 8th District. An August primary and November election will be held in the new 2nd District, which encompasses much of the 8th District.
Rotondi said that while Barber faces an August primary challenge from state Rep. Matt Heinz (D-Tucson) in the new district, the NCPSSM believes he'll win the June election and be the incumbent in August, which is why it backed Barber now.
Heinz told HuffPost that other groups have told him the two elections are being considered separately for endorsements, but noted that he opposes Kelly's viewpoints on Social Security and Medicare. Heinz has endorsed Barber for the six-month term, while opposing him for the two-year term.