Barber camp: McSally staffer gave tips on beating Kelly
Republican spokesman denies providing campaign advice to Democrats
A campaign aide for Republican Martha McSally gave a staffer for Ron Barber unsolicited tips on beating Jesse Kelly a week before the special general election, Barber aides said.
The Republican's spokesman denied giving campaign advice to the Democrats, saying the story is a "mischaracterization."
McSally spokesman Sam Stone approached a young Barber staffer on the Thursday before the June 12 election and handed her a business card with campaign advice written on the back, Barber advisor Rodd McLeod said Monday.
During a brief conversation, first reported by Politico, Stone told Barber's staffer—whom McLeod declined to name—that the Democrats should target the GOP's Kelly on abortion and other social issues, according to McLeod.
Stone acknowledged Monday that a "polite exchange ... just innocuous" occurred, but denied giving political advice.
"It was a surface-level conversation about 'how's the race going,'" he said.
Barber's campaign described the conversation as something more.
"We really want to see you win so we can actually have a real election in November because I hate slam campaigns," Stone told the staffer, according to an email account she wrote following the conversation.
"And to be honest I still want a job so really go after those social issues, particularly abortion, with women who haven't voted yet," Stone told the staffer, according to the email, which was provided to TucsonSentinel.com.
The email said the staffer didn't engage in a discussion of the campaign.
"There was some smiling and nodding and 'Yes we really hope to win in the special' from me as well but I didn't say anything more than that or like 'Thanks for helping us slam Kelly! We hope to run against you instead!,'" she wrote.
"He definitely was talking more," the staffer recounted.
Stone gave one of his business cards to the Barber staffer, which, according to the Democrat's campaign, had written on the back (see photo):
(R) Polling Shows U Down 3%. Only Room to Move is on Social issue (abortion). Target (I) & (R) women - mail mon?
Stone said the handwriting on the card is not his.
"Someone took some notes on there," he said.
Stone also declined to name the Democratic staffer.
The staffer's email account said that Stone told her Barber should "seriously consider the information on that card."
Stone said the Democrat's story is "really just rumor-mill stuff. We'd rather the campaign didn't start down that road."
The Democrats' story "is a total mischaracterization of my statement," he said.
"I jokingly said 'I'd like to know if I'll have a job on Tuesday,'" Stone said.
McLeod said he has never seen communication between rival parties such as the Democrats allege Stone offered.
"It's like, 'here's how to beat my party's candidate in the general election, so my candidate who lost the primary has a chance to come back,'" he said.
"I was just taken aback," McLeod said. "It's pretty odd" for a staffer to try to give campaign advice across party lines.
Stone declined to comment on why the Democrats would put the story out.
"I don't want to speculate on what their motivations are," he said. "We don't want to see this kind of campaign at all."
McSally came in second in the Republican primary that picked a candidate in the CD8 special election that filled the seat vacated by Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned in January.
McSally, a former Air Force pilot, had said that if Kelly won, she would not run again in the fall contest in the 2nd Congressional District.
The retired colonel is now the likely candidate to face Barber in the fall. She faces a primary against political unknown Mark Koskiniemi, while the newly elected congressman will face state Rep. Matt Heinz in a Democratic primary in August.
There has been some right-wing social media chatter that McSally encouraged supporters to vote for Barber, to force Kelly to drop out of the fall race.
The 13,000-vote loss marked Kelly's second in CD8 in under two years; Giffords beat him by 4,000 votes in 2010. The Marine veteran said last week he would not make a fall run for Congress.
McLeod and Stone each denied any connection between the campaigns.
"None at all," McLeod said.
"We didn't change our strategy" as a result of the contact between Stone and the Barber staffer, he said.
The final weekend of a campaign is too late to shift strategies, even if they had considered Stone's alleged suggestions, McLeod said.
Stone agreed on the timing.
"On the Thursday before the election, there's nothing that could have changed the result," he said.
"A lot of people were never very big fans of Jesse Kelly," Stone said.