Republican Jesse Kelly announced Thursday his decision to withdraw from the race for the seat formerly held by Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, raising Democratic hopes of holding onto the seat for the next Congress.
"Looking at the results from Tuesday, we have decided to withdraw from the race for Congress in AZ-02 and to seek other opportunities," Kelly, a marine veteran and tea party candidate, said in a statement. "I will forever be thankful to our generous supporters and volunteers."
On Tuesday, Kelly lost the special election to succeed the congresswoman in Arizona's 8th District. Democrat Ron Barber, Giffords' former district director, won 52 to 45 percent, according to the Secretary of State's unofficial totals. Voters in that race chose a representative to fulfill the remainder of Giffords' current term. (Giffords retired from Congress in Jan. 2012.)
But there was another election on the horizon.
Due to redistricting, most of the current 8th District will be incorporated into the newly drawn and renumbered 2nd District for the next session of Congress beginning Jan. 2013. Barber and Kelly had each filed to compete in the 2nd District primary on Aug. 28, setting up a potential re-match in the competitive district.
Kelly, the GOP nominee against Giffords in 2010, was the clear favorite for the Republican nomination in that race. Democrats on Thursday expressed confidence in their chances.
"The voters of southern Arizona just rejected the extreme policies represented by Jesse Kelly and Martha McSally that endanger Medicare and Social Security and they'll reject them again in November," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
McSally, a veteran air force pilot who ran in the 8th District special election, is now likely to be regarded as the frontrunner for the 2nd District GOP nomination.
Barber is expected to soon be sworn in to become the next 8th District representative. The seat has been vacant since Giffords resigned in January to continue her recovery from a Jan. 2011 shooting attack.