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CD 8: ONE BIG, HAPPY, POST-PRIMARY GOP FAMILY

The race between Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Republican challenger Jesse Kelly remains a neck-and-neck affair with less than three weeks to go before the Nov. 2 election.

Last week, the Cook Political Report moved the race into the toss-up category, while political stats wizard Nate Silver of The New York Times downgraded Giffords' chances, saying she had a 51.7 percent chance of winning in November.

In the money race, Giffords is maintaining a solid lead, which is allowing her to outpace Kelly with attack ads on local TV screens. Last week, we learned that Giffords, who had more than $1.9 million in the bank as of Aug. 4, had raised $700,000 in the Federal Election Commission reporting period that ended on Sept. 30—her best three months of the year.

Team Kelly is hustling to keep up, telling The Skinny that the campaign had raised about $525,000 in the third quarter. Kelly, who has raised about a million bucks for the entire campaign, was down to less than $79,000 on Aug. 4, but it appears that he's raising enough to produce his own attack ads. (And besides, he doesn't need as much money as Giffords, because there are a host of third-party groups hammering away at the Democratic congresswoman.)

Kelly opened up the fourth fundraising quarter with a Phoenix fundraiser featuring Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who signed a law forcing his state's residents to buy health insurance.

Despite that minor act of tyranny, Kelly tells us via e-mail that he's "honored to have the support of a pro-jobs business leader like Gov. Mitt Romney as well as many other elected officials."

Sen. John McCain was among the other elected officials on the host committee. Evidently, the GOP candidates have patched things up since Kelly called for a "day of reckoning" for "liberals" like Arizona's senior senator back when Kelly endorsed McCain's nemesis, J.D. Hayworth, in the GOP primary.

Another host: Jeff Flake, the Maricopa County congressman behind the STRIVE Act, a stalled bit of immigration-reform legislation that Kelly has denounced as "amnesty." Flake, as you might guess, has a different perspective on the bill.

Kelly was less than friendly with Flake during the GOP primary. When Kelly's opponent, Jonathan Paton, attended a fundraiser with Flake, Kelly blasted both Paton and Flake in a press release: "Voters are confused by Jonathan Paton talking tough on the border while palling around with the open-borders/amnesty crowd. It is time for Paton to decide where he stands on this issue and to be up front with the voters. The days of professional, career politicians fooling the voters by saying one thing in public and doing another when money is being passed around are over. Paton should distance himself from Flake or else admit that he is not serious about securing the border."

Last week, Kelly struck a more conciliatory tone toward Flake, telling us via e-mail: "I look forward to working with Rep. Flake and many others in Congress to reduce wasteful government spending and to advance pro-jobs policies that will increase employment."

We suppose it's nothing new to see candidates who, well, fool the voters by saying one thing in public during the primary, and doing another when money is passed around after the primary.


THE GIFFORDS-KELLY DEBATES ARE HERE!

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will finally meet challenger Jesse Kelly in three debates next week.

The first one will feature the candidates answering questions from a panel of journalists that will include Christopher Conover of Arizona Public Media, Dan Shearer of the Green Valley News and your ever-humble Skinny scribe, Jim Nintzel. You can catch it live at the UA Student Union or watch it broadcast live on KUAT Channel 6, at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 18.

Seating will be limited to the first 600 people, and the doors open at 6 p.m.

The candidates will also meet for a debate in Sierra Vista on Wednesday, Oct. 20, and on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 22. You can find details on those events on The Range, our daily dispatch, at daily.tucsonweeky.com.


WATERED-DOWN TEA

Speaking of John McCain: The senator formally known as Maverick got so wound up in his attacks on the Obama administration and U.S. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Raúl Grijalva at last weekend's Tucson Tea Party rally that he lost track of what he was saying.

"We've got make sure we cut no one's taxes!" McCain roared at one point. "No one needs their taxes cut, and we will not, we will not cut people's taxes, and by the way, our first agenda item should be repeal and replace Obamacare!"

To his credit, it didn't take long for McCain to realize his blunder and add: "We will not raise anyone's taxes! No one's taxes should be raised!"

It's not the first time he's changed his position on the Bush tax cuts. He said it was a big giveaway to the wealthy back in 2001, when he either (a) really cared about balancing the budget, or (b) wanted to screw with the Bush administration. Make up your own mind on that one; you're not likely to get an honest answer from McCain about his motivation.

About 2,000 folks showed up at Hi Corbett Field for the Tucson Tea Party, leaving enough empty seats to remind us of a midweek Toros game. It was a big drop-off from last year, when organizer Trent Humphries estimated that 7,000 people turned out at Tucson Electric Park. (FWIW: The gays really outdid the Tea Party on Saturday, easily drawing twice as many folks to Pride in the Desert around the corner at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center.)

McCain's Libertarian opponent, David Nolan, blames the low turnout on McCain.

"You can't vilify a man for 18 months and then expect people to come out to see him," says Nolan, who was manning one of many small booths in the shade behind the grandstand.

Nolan, who broke away from the GOP to help launch the Libertarian Party way back in the early '70s, notes that the only politicians who were invited to speak at the Tea Party rally were McCain and GOP congressional candidates Jesse Kelly and Ruth McClung.

Nolan says he's always had a good relationship with the Tucson Tea Party, so he was surprised to see that they had made such a partisan turn.

"Tucson was one of the more independent Tea Party groups," Nolan says. "Of course, (former U.S. Rep.) Dick Armey and his operatives have infiltrated and captured a lot of the Tea Party groups around the country, and this seems to be their latest conquest."

Nolan says he's still speaking to smaller Tea Party groups in Arizona that appear to be autonomous, but "there seems to have been a concerted effort to take over the Tea Party and turn it into a Republican get-out-the-vote rally, which I think is kind of sad, because it's gone, in a period of a year-and-a-half, from being a genuine grassroots effort to try to get people to set aside their partisan differences and work for candidates and ballot props that will, allegedly, reduce the size and cost of government ... into a straight partisan effort."


Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

More by Jim Nintzel

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