Giffords had hoped for such a result when she handpicked Barber, her longtime Democratic district director and friend, after she resigned in January to focus on recovering from a brain injury suffered in the shooting. Democrats were keen on keeping the toss-up seat in their hands before the fall elections.
Barber represents Congressional District 8 for six months and is running for a full term in the newly drawn District 2 during the regular fall elections.
Kelly, a 30-year-old construction-project manager and former Marine who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010, also plans to compete for the full term.
But he could encounter Republican resistance to a third try after his loss to to Barber. Two other GOP candidates, including a potential rising star, retired Air Force pilot Martha McSally, have filed to compete for the full term.
McSally finished second to Kelly in the April primary, despite little initial name recognition and modest fundraising. Her brand of spunky conservative feminism and story of becoming the Air Force’s first female combat pilot stirred many voters. A little-known Republican county worker, Mark Koskiniemi, is also on the ballot for the fall.
Barber, 66, is slated to face Tucson doctor and state Rep. Matt Heinz in the Democratic primary.
The problem is the newly redrawn districts will make it very tough for Democrats to keep the seat in November. Tuscon will become the 2nd district, while a lot of votes will be shifted next door along the Mexico border to Democrat and Progressive Caucus head Raul Grijalva in the 7th. Ed Pastor in the 4th still looks good, but the newly redrawn second is now extremely competitive, and Arizona Republicans are confident they've stowed all the Latino vote in the 7th and the African-American vote in the 4th, leaving the other 6 districts as easy GOP wins for the next ten years.
Barber can at least make it a bit more even, but it will be difficult at best.