The battle for Arizona’s 8th District U.S. House seat pits two-term incumbent Democrat Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords against political newcomer Jesse Kelly who staged an upset against a seasoned politician in the Republican primary race. Strong sentiment has been unleashed on both sides, with Giffords calling Kelly a dangerous ideologue who wants to eliminate Social Security and the minimum wage. Her ads and press releases warn voters that Kelly dismisses Medicare as a Ponzi scheme, proposes a national sales tax of 23 percent on everything the middle class buys and a reduction of the corporate tax rate to zero.
Kelly, meanwhile, accuses Giffords of four years of failure, reneging on a commitment not to vote for the health care reform bill unless it included tort reform and coming late to the party on border security. He issued a press release saying Giffords is “more interested in bailing out Wall St. than bringing jobs to Arizona.”
Candidate: Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords
Political experience: Giffords is the two-term incumbent representing Arizona’s 8th House District, where she serves on the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Science and Technology committees. She has aligned herself with the centrist Blue Dogs, according to WhoRunsGov.
She served one term in the Arizona house from 2000 to 2002, then served in the state senate, leaving that post to run for Congress.
Professional experience: According to Project Vote Smart, Giffords is a managing partner at Giffords Capital Management, a post she has held since 2000. From 1996 to 2000, she was president and chief executive officer of El Campo Tire, Inc. Previously she did planning for Price Waterhouse and San Diego Dialogue at the University of San Diego.
Giffords earned her bachelor’s degree at Scripps College and her master’s at Cornell University.
Key Issues: Energy policy, military support and immigration reform/border control are cornerstone issues in the Giffords campaign.
Giffords introduced the Solar Energy Research and Advancement Act, which was enacted into law; she is committed to reducing reliance on foreign oil and ensuring the country meets the goal of 20 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2020.
Giffords notes that she is the only member of Congress with a spouse serving on active duty in the military. She worked to expand educational benefits to GIs and to increase mental health funding for the VA.
On immigration reform, Giffords has sought federal funding to cover costs of the immigrant influx in Arizona, particularly with respect to health care needs. She authored a bill to mandate criminal penalties for using tunnels to smuggle aliens or contraband.
Endorsements: Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters and Emily’s List endorse Gabrielle Giffords.
Chances of winning the race: Most political analysts are calling this a Democratic-leaning race while D.C. Political Report would hand the race to the Democrats and Rothenberg calls it a toss-up. The 8th District, while identified as Republican (supported McCain by 52 to 46 percent in 2008), is known for its independence and is not considered a conservative bastion.
As a Blue Dog centrist, Giffords has proven her appeal to this independent-minded district, winning both her congressional elections by considerable margins, 54.1 percent to 42.2 percent in 2004 and 54.7 percent to 42.8 percent in 2008, according to official election tallies.
Candidate: Jesse Kelly
Political experience: Kelly has no political experience. Conservative websites pounced on his lack of experience in the primary. They flagged an email to Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump saying, in part, “I … would like to begin a political career. I have absolutely no clue where to begin, who to talk to, or even what office to would be best to compete for.”
Professional experience: Kelly is a project manager in his family’s construction firm, Don Kelly Construction, according to his website.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2000-2004.
Kelly attended Montana State University for a year and dropped out.
Key Issues: Jobs, the national debt and Social Security are top issues for the Kelly campaign.
On jobs, Kelly proposes total reliance on a free market. He advocates stopping government investment in jobs creation and “getting Washington out of the way” of businesses by reducing taxes and regulatory oversight.
He says of the national debt that the government must cut spending, pay down debt and live within its means.
Kelly’s website currently proclaims a need to protect Social Security. He advocates giving younger workers a choice to invest Social Security contributions in private accounts similar to the options he says Congress is offered through the Federal Thrift Savings Program. Throughout the primary race, Kelly advocated privatization and ultimate elimination of the Social Security program, while paying benefits to current recipients.
Endorsements: Kelly is endorsed by Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, Combat Veterans for Congress and Gov. Jan Brewer.
Chances of winning the race: Kelly is the underdog in this race, taking on a popular incumbent who easily won election in 2006 and 2008. The major pollsters call this race Democratic-leaning, with two exceptions: DC Political characterizes it as a Democratic win and Rothenberg a toss-up. Nevertheless, Kelly’s ability to stage an upset cannot be dismissed; he did just that in the Republican primary when he beat a seasoned politician for the party’s nomination. His bid for the 8th District seat depends largely on swaying voters against the incumbent based on her votes on the stimulus package, health care reform and bank bailouts. But even a successful attack on Giffords’ record would not mean a surefire win for Kelly; his radical viewpoints have potential to alienate the 8th District’s moderate voters and counter any anti-Giffords sentiment he generates.
Key Differences between Gabby Giffords and Jesse Kelly
On energy, Giffords would work toward 20 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2020. She believes the nation must reduce reliance on foreign oil and expand solar energy. Kelly supports renewable energy development with the free market and not the government determining when and where it is developed. He favors tapping America’s reserves regardless of political objections.
Both candidates would provide strong support to the military. Giffords’ platform calls for fully supporting the military. She cites among her accomplishments votes that favor provision of educational and mental health benefits to GIs and allowing active duty troops to claim the earned income credit on their federal taxes. Kelly advocates full funding, training and supplying of needed tools for military troops.
On illegal immigration and border control, Giffords focuses on ensuring Arizona gets federal funding for costs associated with illegal immigration. She believes border control is an issue of national security that transcends campaigning and contends bi-partisan cooperation and bi-lateral consensus with Mexico are key to effective border security. Kelly wants to see the double border fence at the US-Mexico border completed, opposes public benefits for illegal immigrants and favors sanctions for employers hiring them. He opposes any amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Giffords has supported job-creation legislation, including the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. She introduced the Older Americans Job Act that provides employer credits for hiring workers older than 55. Kelly contends that America’s unemployment problem can and should be fixed by letting the free market have uninhibited rein over jobs creation.
Kelly believes the national debt should be addressed by the federal government cutting spending, paying down debt and living within its means. Giffords doesn’t address handling the national debt on her website.
On Social Security, Kelly has advocated privatization; he has equivocated on ultimately eliminating the Social Security program altogether. Giffords wants to strengthen Social Security, stating that without the program half of all seniors would fall into poverty.
Demographics: With immigration/border security a major concern in Arizona, the district’s sizable Latino population — 18.2 percent of all races, according to a 2006 to 2008 Census survey, may prove a critical factor in this race. The district includes 641,329 people, 83.7 percent white and 3.1 percent black.
The median age of the district’s residents is 39.1, a statistic that takes on significance in light of a recent poll by a survey firm, Ayers and McHenry Associates, Inc. The widely-distributed survey results contradict respected pollsters’ conclusions that Giffords is positioned for a win. Instead, it says, the candidates are tied. 81percent of the survey respondents were older than 50, according to the Tucson Sentinel, significantly older than the median. The Sentinel also reported that the survey was biased, citing as an example the question, “Do you think Gabrielle Giffords deserves reelection as congresswoman, or do you think it is time to give someone else a chance?” Ayers contends that its sample composition reflects a projection of the age of voters who will actually go to the polls in 2010.