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Tight Race for Giffords Seat Sends Big Signals About November

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Cross-posted from The Nation

The Republican Party's 2012 electoral juggernaut -- and, make no mistake, it is a juggernaut -- has decided to go "all in" on the fight for retired Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford's seat from her Democratic party.

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The special election to fill the seat, which takes place Tuesday, has seen massive outside spending (by GOP groups and by "independent" allies such as Karl Rove and Dick Armey) on behalf of a Republican who hopes to grab it for his party. Democrats have fought back aggressively in the closing days because they know they cannot afford to lose the seat.

How should Americans who don't happen to live in Arizona see this particular contest?

It's best understood in the context of similar elections in Britain -- where they are referred to as "by-elections." When a by-election falls shortly before a general election, it is seen as something of a test run; or, at the very least, an indicator of where particular regions are trending.

That's what Tuesday's Arizona vote has become, with significance to the races for president and for control of Congress. And massive outside spending to emphasize the point.

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All sides are taking it seriously, and rightly so. Southern Arizona's 8th district is "swing" territory, with a slight Republican lean but more than enough independents to tip it Democratic when the party (or a particular candidate) is running strong.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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