Primary Appeal

Republicans pick a nominee on Tuesday, April 17, for the special congressional election

If there was a moment that got people talking after last week's debate among the Republican candidates who hope to complete Gabrielle Giffords' congressional term, it came when Martha McSally delivered a reality check to Jesse Kelly's questionable claim that the United States has "significantly" more oil than Saudi Arabia.

"Jesse, we don't have more oil than Saudi Arabia," said McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot and squadron leader who told the audience that recovering the oil supplies in shale rock that Kelly was referring to would be "cost-prohibitive."

"We don't have those technologies yet," McSally said. "So maybe you should use your GI Bill to go back to college and get a geology degree, and you could help with that."

Kelly, 30, who dropped out of college in his freshman year because he "absolutely hated it" and joined the Marines for a four-year stint before going to work for his father's construction company, turned red as he appeared to stifle a laugh.

Kelly did not directly respond to McSally's verbal slap, although in his closing statement, he promised to run "an issues-based campaign all the way to victory in June. ... No matter what questions are asked, or what gotcha things the left tries, this campaign will remain 100 percent focused on getting the Constitution back to being important in this nation, and getting the American people back to work."

After the debate, at Vail's Empire High School last Thursday, April 5, Kelly campaign spokesman John Ellinwood suggested that McSally's comments were too personal for a Republican debate.

Kelly found an unlikely defender in state Sen. Frank Antenori, who is also seeking the nomination in the GOP primary, which will be settled on Tuesday, April 17. Antenori said that McSally's comments about Kelly's education were "elitist" and a "desperate move" to gain attention for her campaign.

"Plenty of guys have served in the military and gone on to great things without going to college," Antenori said.

But Antenori himself has drawn attention to Kelly's lack of education. On a campaign flier, Antenori boasts that he has a bachelor's degree in health science (with a 3.94 GPA), while Kelly is a "college dropout (first semester)."

And so it goes in the GOP primary, as the candidates attempt to gain ground on Kelly, the putative favorite in the special Republican primary election. Kelly, who enjoys huge name ID in the district thanks to his campaign against Giffords in 2010—he narrowly lost—has also been spending more money than the other candidates since early voting started, including a massive TV buy that has dwarfed the others' efforts.

Campaign-finance reports that were due last week showed Kelly had raised roughly $222,000 since the start of year, and had spent about $207,000. Combined with money he already had on hand following his 2010 campaign, Kelly had about $50,000 left in the bank as of March 28.

Sports broadcaster and businessman Dave Sitton had raised more than $260,000 as of March 28, but had only spent roughly $128,000, leaving him with a little more than $132,000 for the final weeks of the campaign. (Team Sitton sent out a press release last week boasting that it had raised another $40,000 as of April 5, bringing Sitton's total beyond $300,000.)

McSally, a political rookie, has not been able to match those numbers. She had raised about $134,000 and spent about $90,000, leaving her with about $44,000 at the end of the reporting period.

But the biggest shocker was Antenori's miniscule haul. Although he's been in the Arizona Legislature since winning a House seat in 2008, Antenori has evidently failed to develop a fundraising network. His report, filed several days after the deadline, showed that he had raised less than $37,000—and was nearly $3,000 in debt.

Antenori's congressional total on the report was just a little more than half of the $72,000 that he raised for his legislative campaign in 2010.

However, none of the GOP candidates had come close to the amount raised by Democrat Ron Barber, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Barber, a longtime aide to Giffords who has her endorsement, raised just less than $550,000 and had only spent about $85,000. He still had more than $463,000 in the bank as the race for the June 12 special general election gets under way.

"I am honored to have the support of so many people—over 3,000 strong—who have stepped forward for our campaign, because they know I will step up and fight for middle-class families in Washington," Barber said in a statement announcing his fundraising totals. "I believe that fundraising isn't just about the bottom line—it's about people investing in someone they know will stand up for their values. When I am elected, I'll fight for our middle class and veterans, and to protect Social Security and Medicare."

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