Iraq war vet wins Arizona Republican primary for Giffords' seat

TUCSON, Arizona Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:37pm EDT

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Iraq war veteran Jesse Kelly has won the Republican primary in Arizona to pick the party's candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives seat of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a shooting spree last year and later resigned.

Kelly, who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010, won the four-way primary with 36 percent of the vote, the Arizona Secretary of State's office said on Wednesday.

He will now compete in a June 12 special election against Democrat Ronald Barber, the former Giffords aide who was also wounded when a gunman opened fire on Giffords and killed six other people in January 2011 in Tucson. Barber has the endorsement of Giffords, also a Democrat.

Martha McSally, a former Air Force colonel who has flown over Iraq and Afghanistan and was the first American woman pilot to fly combat missions, came in second place in Tuesday's Republican primary with 25 percent of the vote. Arizona state Senator Frank Antenori placed third and sports broadcaster Dave Sitton came in fourth.

Giffords stepped down in January to focus on her recovery a year after she was shot in the head at a congressional meet-and-greet event outside a Tucson supermarket. Analysts said strong local support for Giffords and Barber following the shooting would likely give the Democrat the edge in the June election.

Jared Loughner, a 23-year-old college dropout, was charged with first-degree murder, the attempted assassination of Giffords and other crimes stemming from the shooting. He pleaded not guilty and was found mentally unfit to stand trial.

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)