Democrats think the Tuesday victory of a former aide to Rep. Gabby Giffords in a special election to replace her says big things about their chances in November.
That's after Ron Barber, who was also wounded in last year's Tucson shooting spree that nearly killed Giffords, beat Republican Jesse Kelly by eight points -- more than Giffords' margin of victory when she faced Kelly in 2010.
Despite the emotions around Giffords, Democrats think the race shows that the arguments over Medicare and Social Security won the day in a district that has a majority of Republican voters, including many retirees.
“Democrats won in a Republican seat last night in Arizona despite being outspent by $500,000, because of our strategic planning for our advertisements and because the election became a referendum on House Republicans’ plans to drastically cut Medicare so they can protect tax breaks for millionaires, Big Oil and companies that ship American jobs overseas,” said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Barber actually outspent Kelly, but independent groups favored Kelly.
The reason Democrats think the race portends a good fall for them is that so much of it focused on the safety net programs for older Americans -- issues that they think favor them -- and because there are 84 Republican-held seats around the country that voted more heavily for President Barack Obama in 2008 than the voters of Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
If a Democrat can win a GOP-leaning district where Obama did worse in the 2008 election than his Republican opponent -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got 53 percent of the vote -- then a Democrat stands a better chance in districts were Obama did better, they argue.
Republicans, of course, are not buying that argument. National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions said that Barber ran by hiding from Obama.
“It is clear that Ron Barber knew that voters in this district would never accept his true positions on President Obama’s agenda, which have made a bad economy worse in this state," Sessions said in a statement. "That explains why he did his best to conceal his support for so much of that agenda. Barber will not have that advantage in November when he will be on the ballot with President Obama, nor will any of his House Democrat colleagues.”
Sessions was referring to stories about Barber distancing himself from parts of Obama's health care reform law.
Sessions and the NRCC predicted that other Democrats would do the same, and that it would be difficult for them to do so with Obama at the top of the ticket. The NRCC also claimed that specific primary results bolster its chances, pointing to three southern races where candidates favored by the Democratic Party lost to challengers who Republicans see as weaker candidates.
Regardless of the specifics of the races, Democrats have been increasingly worried over the last few weeks that they will get outspent by outside groups and lose across the board. Democratic Senatorial Campaign committee director Guy Cecil recently argued in an interview with The Huffington Post that Democrats won when they had similar spending levels to the GOP in 2010, but lost when they trailed by a lot.
Obama campaign head Jim Messina made a similar argument after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) won his recall race. DCCC head Rep. Steve Israel has also been pleading with Democratic donors to step up their giving, saying a "tsunami" of outside spending is what keeps him up at night.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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