According to a new poll from a friendly super PAC, Democratic Rep. Ron Barber holds an early lead in his rematch against former Air Force pilot Martha McSally, a Republican, despite a Koch-funded ad campaign against him and McSally's familiarity in the district after her 2012 race against Barber.
Barber leads McSally 45 percent to 37 percent in the poll from Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC, with 18 percent of respondents undecided. The Democratic polling firm Normington Petts surveyed 400 likely voters from June 8-10, with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
The poll indicates a close race in a tightly divided district, and 45 percent is often considered a treacherous line for incumbent officeholders in polling. But the survey also provides evidence that Barber -- one of House Democrats' most endangered incumbents in 2014 -- has thus far withstood an early ad campaign by groups like the LIBRE Initiative and Americans for Prosperity, two nonprofits with ties to the Koch brothers that have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in southeast Arizona.
Barber is one of Republicans' top targets this cycle after beating McSally by less than 1 percentage point in 2012. Thanks to that race, Barber has only a minor name-identification advantage. The poll found that 92 percent of respondents were familiar with Barber, while 76 percent were familiar with McSally. That number will start going up soon: McSally's campaign will begin airing television ads touting her military experience and plans for the district during the World Cup
Barber also does not have quite the cash advantage that other incumbents have, leading McSally $1.2 million to $847,000 at the end of March.
But the Democratic poll showed more 2nd Congressional District voters with favorable views toward Barber than toward McSally. Barber was rated favorably by 49 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 28 percent; McSally's favorability rating was 32 percent to 28 percent unfavorable. It also found that Barber had a 56 percent positive and 37 percent negative job rating, better than those of President Obama, Gov. Jan Brewer, or Sen. John McCain.
The race has attracted significant attention from outside groups. Americans For Prosperity went on air early, in October 2013, criticizing Barber with TV ads during the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov more than a year before the election.
Then the LIBRE Initiative announced in March that it would spend about $500,000 against Barber, also running ads focusing on Barber's support of Obamacare.
House Majority PAC defended Barber with TV ads decrying the "attack ads "¦ paid for by out-of-state billionaires trying to fool you." The group has spent $219,000 backing Barber, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The race has primarily pitted McSally's unique background against Barber's reliable breaks with his party to please the district's moderate electorate. (The 2nd District is 1 of just 9 in the country that voted for both Mitt Romney and a Democratic representative in the 2012 elections.) McSally was the first female Air Force fighter pilot to fly in combat, which has matched well with her focus on saving the Air Force's A-10 jet, a staple at Tucson's David-Monthan Air Force Base, from being retired. But she has also been criticized for being vague on her positions, declining to say how she would have voted on the government shutdown last year.
Barber has only held the seat since the middle of 2012. He previously worked as an aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before the January 2011 shooting that killed six and wounded 14 others, including Giffords and Barber, before going on to replace Giffords in a special election the next year.
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Jack Fitzpatrick is a staff correspondent at National Journal. He has previously written for USA TODAY, NBCNews.com, Slate, The Arizona Republic and other newspapers and websites. He graduated from Arizona State University with a master's degree in mass communication and a bachelor's degree in journalism.