Does civil discourse count for much in the contest to replace Gabby Giffords? UPDATED

Ron Barber and Gabby Giffords

Voters in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District will decide today who will serve out the remainder of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ term in a race seen by politicos as a test for the fall and by observers as taking the temperature of the nation’s political discourse.

On one side is Giffords’ aide Ron Barber, who was wounded in the 2011 shooting that critically injured Giffords and killed six other people. His opponent is Republican Jesse Kelly, a former Marine and Iraq war veteran who ran a tea party-fueled campaign against Giffords in 2010 that came up 4,000 votes short…

After the shooting, controversy followed speculation that divisive political rhetoric may be to blame. And at a memorial service, President Barack Obama asked for more civil discourse.

“I don’t think anybody thinks incivility caused the tragedy,” said Kate Kinski, who teaches government and communications at Arizona State University. “Nevertheless, it presented an opening for us to talk about the dissatisfaction with the way we talk about politics…”

If the race to replace Giffords were a test of whether more civil discourse is possible in politics, the jury is still out…Special elections like this one are generally decided by the party faithful, the ones who turn out despite the 100-degree temperatures in June.

The candidates themselves have run a very civil race,” Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said. He said outsiders like Republican strategist Karl Rove are to blame for any incivility.

“All this outside money that’s come in from Karl Rove’s group and the Republican National Committee and those … Their ads have not been as civil, I would say, and that’s on both sides…”

Kate Kinski said, “Congressional District 8 is a microcosm of the tensions we see in the nation overall. One of the thoughts is, if we can’t get this district right, how can we expect the nation overall to become more civil and to reach conclusions to recognize the other side the best it can?”

Sorry; but, I still wonder how much of this or any election is won through civil discourse in a state like Arizona where ideology most often counts for more than a platform designed to solve problems affecting all the voters. There’s a reason why Arizona has long been called the Mississippi of the West – and a campaign to fill the remaining term of a member of Congress who survived an assassination attempt can’t avoid that question. Even while being polite about it.

UPDATE: Barber defeated Kelly by three times the margin of Gifford’s last victory over the Tea Party mouthpiece. Bravo!

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