Special Election: A National Dress Rehearsal

As the bruising special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comes to a close on Tuesday, perhaps it's time to update an outdated piece of wisdom: No politics is local.

That's possibly the biggest lesson from the closely-watched contest to fill the remainder of Giffords's term in Arizona's 8th Congressional District. After the assassination attempt against the Democrat in January 2011, followed by her resignation to focus on her recovery in January 2012, you could have been forgiven for thinking the race between Giffords's former aide Ron Barber (a Democrat) and repeat Republican nominee Jesse Kelly would hinge on stewardship of "Gabby's seat," a Republican-leaning, Tucson-based border district in southeastern Arizona, and would stand somewhat removed from the rancorous moods of national politics.

Instead, the campaign has focused relentlessly on Social Security and Medicare, Kelly's tea party ties, and Barber's relationship with President Obama and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — the same types of partisan skirmishes that have bedeviled the country  for years.

Ultimately, the Giffords factor and the district's Republican leanings give both parties reason to hope for victory, to rationalize defeat, and to not overreact too much about either result. A loss would not condemn either party's chances in November, although losing such a symbolic district would be an especially bitter defeat for Democrats.