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Giffords aide Barber jumps into special election

This Jan. 23, 2012 file photo shows U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., touring the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center, one of her favorite charities, with her staffer Ron Barber in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, a top aide to former Congresswoman Giffords, is expected announce his candidacy to run in a special election to serve as an interim replacement for the Arizona Democrat who was wounded in a shooting rampage a year ago. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Ron Barber, an aide to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was wounded in the shooting attack that forced her resignation from Congress, announced his candidacy today for the special election to finish the congresswoman’s term.

Barber, who worked on Giffords’ first congressional campaign in 2006 and became her district director in Tucson the following year, described himself as a moderate in the Giffords mold who would fight for the issues and priorities she supported in Congress. He said he wanted to continue Giffords’ constituent services, help veterans and seniors, improve border security and reduce the federal budget deficit.

“I’ve been given the incredible opportunity, having survived the tragic shooting on January 8. I really feel fortunate that I’ve gotten the opportunity to serve my community in a new way. I never intended to run for any elected office, but I decided to jump into this and try to do what I can to help the people who live in this part of the state,” Barber said in a conference call with reporters.

Barber, 66, said Giffords and husband Mark Kelly personally asked him to run a couple weeks ago. He said he decided on Tuesday to get into the race.

“The congresswoman looked at me directly and said, ‘Ron, would you run?’” Barber said.

Most Democrats expected Barber to run only in the special election for the remainder of Giffords’ term in the 8th Congressional District and serve as a placeholder until the regular elections this fall in the new 2nd Congressional District. But Barber said he hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll run for a full term in November if he wins the special election.

“I’m not going to delay this. I just think it’s hard for me to imagine thinking two elections down the road,” Barber said. “I will get to that decision and it will be fairly soon.”

Barber was shot in the face and leg in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Since he returned to work at Giffords’ district office in July, he has worked half days while he recuperated from his gunshot wounds.

But Barber said he is healthy enough to run and serve in Congress. He said his health has improved greatly in the past few months, and he now has more mobility because of a leg brace he wears. He also said he has more energy now than at any time since the shooting.

“My health has gotten better by the minute, by the day,” Barber said. “I’ve never given anything less than 100 percent to every job project and initiative I’ve been involved with. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I had the wherewithal to do it.”

Barber is running with Giffords’ and Kelly’s endorsement. Kelly urged supporters in a press statement and on his Facebook page to help Barber raise money from 1,000 contributors by Monday.

“Ron is a leader who puts politics aside and brings people together. From running Gabby’s district operations and working with people to resolve their problems, to the 35 years of service helping people with disabilities, Ron has spent his career fighting for those in need,” Kelly wrote. “Thank you for standing with me and Gabby through this last year. Now, we ask you to stand with Ron as he helps to continue the work we began together.”

Giffords has about $927,000 in campaign cash remaining. Barber said he and Giffords haven’t discussed whether she would use that money to help his campaign, or whether she would even be able to.

The announcement is expected to clear the field for the special election, at least on the Democratic side. Rep. Matt Heinz, the only Democratic candidate officially in the race prior to Barber’s announcement, said he would withdraw from the special election, endorse Barber and focus solely on the regular election in CD2.

“Because Ron is stepping up, I think this does provide for some space. It clears the field and allows us to concentrate our efforts and resources on the fall, a better district for Democrats,” said Heinz, D-Tucson. “It also allows the Republicans to tear each other apart and burn through millions of dollars … in the special election for CD8.”

Heinz said he may reevaluate his CD2 plans if Barber decides to run for the seat, but said he will proceed as though that won’t happen.

“I’m running this fall, period. I have no plans to change that,” he said.

Barber’s announcement that he hasn’t yet decided whether to run in the regular election could keep other Democrats at bay. Rep. Steve Farley, who is considering running in CD2, said Barber’s lack of a decision could lead to a lot of uncertainty among potential Democratic candidates.

“Anybody who would be endorsed by Gabby in either election, I’m not running against,” Farley said. “I think we’ll have to clarify that.”

Sen. Paula Aboud, another potential Democratic candidate, said she doesn’t know what Barber’s intentions are or whether the lack of certainty about CD2 would be a problem for other Democrats.

Aboud, D-Tucson, said she would announce her own campaign plans early next week. She said she put about $50,000 of her own money in a campaign account on Feb. 6.

Barber’s candidacy puts Republican candidates in a tight spot. With Giffords’ expected endorsement, staff and fundraising connections, he likely becomes the immediate frontrunner in the special election for CD8. If the Republican nominee loses the June 12 special election, the GOP will have to compete for an open CD2 seat that is more Democratic than its predecessor.

Jesse Kelly, Giffords’ GOP opponent in 2010, is running in the special election, as are Sen. Frank Antenori, former Air Force pilot Martha McSally and sportscaster Dave Sitton.

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