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Why race to replace Gabrielle Giffords matters nationally

Arizona's Eighth District votes Tuesday to elect a replacement for Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A victory by aide Ron Barber would give Democrats a break from bad news.

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Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (2nd l.) makes an appearance onstage in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday in support of her former aide, Democrat Ron Barber (2nd r.), who is running for her former post.

Samantha Sais/REUTERS

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The special election Tuesday to replace Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona is largely about unique local circumstances.

It’s about filling the remaining six months of a beloved congresswoman’s term, following the assassination attempt in January 2011 that left Ms. Giffords gravely wounded but alive – and now continuing her recovery.

It’s about her aide, Ron Barber, who was also wounded in the mass shooting and is now running to replace her following her resignation.

And it’s about Jesse Kelly, the tea-party-backed Republican nominee and former Marine, who ran against Giffords in 2010 and lost by about 1 percentage point in a district with 26,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.

The only public survey on the race, released Monday by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP), shows Mr. Barber ahead by a wide margin, 53 percent to 41 percent. Assuming Barber does win, the Democrats will shout from the rooftops.

“Democrats are headed for a victory in tomorrow's special election to replace Gabby Giffords in the House, but the relevance of the result in Arizona to much of anything else appears limited,” writes Tom Jensen of PPP.

But a Democratic victory will still matter. After all, it’s a Republican-leaning swing district. A win would provide a respite from the negative narrative that has dogged President Obama since the June 1 jobs report showed an uptick in unemployment, and has continued through the Republican victory in the Wisconsin recall election last week and the president’s verbal blunder on the economy last Friday.

Even four days later, both presidential campaigns are still duking it out over Obama’s comment that “the private sector is doing fine” (later amended) and Mitt Romney’s assertion that the federal government shouldn’t be funding more firefighters, police, and teachers.

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