Democrat Ron Barber clarified Thursday that he "of course" supports President Obama, a day after he declined to say whom he would vote for in the November election at a debate.
During a debate hosted Wednesday by the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Jewish Community Center, Barber was asked by Jesse Kelly, his Republican opponent in the Congressional District 8 special election, who he's supporting in the November presidential election.
"My vote is my vote, Mr. Kelly, as yours is to you," Barber said in the debate. "And I will not be talking about other elections. I'm focused on beating you."
The answer put Barber in a national spotlight, and not necessarily in a good way, as publications like the Washington Post, Politico and USA Today blogged about the Democratic congressional candidate who didn't support the Democratic president.
Barber's reluctance to say he supports the president was all the more surprising considering his relatively close ties with President and Mrs. Obama.
The president and first lady visited him in his hospital room after the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting. And during her fundraiser in Tucson on April 30, the first lady specifically mentioned Barber.
"He is going to do a fantastic job representing his district in Washington," Michelle Obama said that day in front of 450 people who paid to attend the event.
At the debate, Kelly hammered Barber for not taking a stand, telling the audience Barber has also refused to take a position on health-care law passed in 2010.
"Whichever side, you have to take a position and fight for the people of Southern Arizona," Kelly said.
Barber's campaign responded with a statement sent out midmorning clarifying that, while he does not agree with the president on everything, he "of course" supports him in November.
"Ron's point last night was that the election on June 12 isn't about President Obama or any other national figure," spokeswoman Jessica Schultz said in the statement. "It's about who is going to do the best job fighting for middle-class families in Southern Arizona."
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee who has been following the CD8 race closely, sent out a press release saying Barber's refusal to answer the simple question was another example of Barber hiding his agenda.
"Clearly, he's embarrassed that he supports Barack Obama," Scarpinato said. "It's sad that Ron Barber had be shamed into admitting that he supports Barack Obama and that he couldn't just be honest with voters."
Scarpinato and the GOP have been trying to link Barber to Obama and what they call his "job-destroying policies" throughout the campaign.
"It's silly," said Rodd McLeod, a Barber spokesman. "They know they can't beat Ron Barber so they are trying to run against Barack Obama."
But the tactic won't work in CD8, where the electorate does its homework and doesn't look to members of Congress to tell them whom to vote for, McLeod said.
"This is a thoughtful electorate that really takes a good hard look at the candidate they have to choose from," McLeod said.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or email@example.com