By Brad Poole
TUCSON Ariz. (Reuters) - An incumbent U.S. Representative from Arizona and former aide to Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in a 2011 shooting rampage, was narrowly trailing a Republican challenger in the vote count on Tuesday, a week after U.S. mid-term elections.
With thousands of votes still left to count, preliminary results show U.S. Representative Ron Barber behind Martha McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot, by just a few hundred ballots in Arizona's 2nd Congressional District.
The race is a re-run of a close contest in 2012 when Barber, who was also injured in the shooting the year before and was subsequently endorsed by Giffords, narrowly prevailed over McSally, a pioneer of women's combat aviation in the early 1990s.
The border district at stake, which covers the eastern half of Tucson, is divided between Republican-heavy Cochise County and Democrat-leaning eastern Pima County.
After Cochise County ballots were counted, McSally sought to halt counting of remaining provisional ballots, thousands of them mail-in ballots that voters dropped off at Pima County polling centers, arguing that some may not have been signed by election authorities.
The Barber campaign celebrated after Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner rejected that request on Monday, meaning the count will go on.
"Today was a win for democracy and a win for the people of southern Arizona, who will make their voice heard at the ballot box – no matter how hard McSally tries to silence us," Barber campaign spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn said.
McSally's campaign called the decision a blow to democracy and vowed to continue fighting.
"Southern Arizonans deserve to know that all procedures are being followed to ensure ballots are valid and that rules aren't simply being decided on a whim," McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said.
Calls to the Pima County Elections Department went unanswered on Tuesday, which is Veteran's Day.
Barber, who was shot in the face and leg in the attack that killed six people and injured 13, is battling McSally for what many locals still refer to as "Giffords' district," even though its boundaries were redrawn after she resigned.
Giffords has since become a gun-owning advocate of gun control legislation.
(Reporting by Brad Poole; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)