Poll: Barber up big in special election for Gabrielle Giffords' seat

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It was expected to be a close one, but a new poll predicts Democrats will easily hold former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' seat in the special election on Tuesday.

Democrat Ron Barber leads his Republican opponent, Jesse Kelly, 53 percent to 41 percent, according to a survey released Monday by Public Policy Polling.

Voters in Arizona's 8th Congressional District are willing to back Barber even though Democratic President Barack Obama is an unpopular figure in the area.

According to the survey, only 44 percent of voters in the district like the job Obama has done while 50 percent disapprove.

If Barber wins, he will have overcome a heavily Republican electorate as well as big money spent by outside groups on Kelly.

Recent voter registration numbers from the Secretary of State show Republicans have opened up a 25,000-person advantage over Democrats.

Also, more than $1 million from various organizations have poured into the race on behalf of Kelly, according to campaign spending reports.

Kelly, who has been considered a favorite of Tea Party Republicans, nearly defeated Giffords two years ago.

Giffords retired from Congress this year to focus on recovering from injuries suffered during a 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson. Barber, 66, is Giffords' former staffer who was also injured during the shooting.

Fifty-seven percent of those questioned for the poll said they've already voted. Of that group, Barber holds a commanding 21 point advantage (58-37), according to the authors of the poll.

The numbers led the East Coast-based pollsters to say, "Barber appears to have the race pretty much locked up."

Local Democratic strategist, Robbie Sherwood, said he's spoken with people inside the Barber campaign who tell him the race will be tighter than this poll suggests.

"They're internals also show (Barber) winning, but it's not going to be by double digits," Sherwood said during a telephone interview.

John Ellinwood, a spokesman for the Kelly campaign, disputes the poll calling it, "worthless." He says there are flaws with how the poll was conducted and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Ellinwood added that Kelly is still very upbeat about his chances and expects to win the seat.

Tuesday’s race will be the center of the nation's political world as Democrats try to bounce back from last week's defeat in Wisconsin.

In that race, Republican Gov. Scott Walker defeated a Democratic and union backed recall. They were angry with the first term governor over his decision to strip state workers in Wisconsin of their collective bargaining rights.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic leaning firm based in North Carolina. Despite the organization's political bent, the firm is highly respected throughout the country and its polls have been rated highly accurate.

The firm questioned 1,058 likely voters June 9-10. The survey has a 3 point margin of error.