Democrats eyeing former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ southern Arizona seat gave her former district director a free pass when he decided he was running to replace her in a June special election.
But while Democrat Ron Barber waits to decide if he will seek a full term in the November general election, members of his own party are busy fundraising and campaigning for the chance to succeed his former boss.
The ball is still in Barber’s court if he wants to run, but he’s said repeatedly he’s not made a decision on whether to seek a full term. Wounded in the same shooting as Giffords in January 2011, Barber has limited use of one leg and at 66, may not want to take on a full term.
That opens the door for Democrats who see a rare chance to grab a job representing Arizona in Washington, and four have jumped in so far. They include state representatives Matt Heinz and Steve Farley, state Sen. Paula Aboud and former University of Arizona student Nomiki Konst, who started a group focused on civics and political education for young tech workers and entertainers.
Barber will face one of six Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in a special April 17 primary. The special general election will be held on June 12.
But in an odd twist of campaign scheduling, if Barber wants to seek a full term he’ll have to file paperwork in late May, before he knows if he won the seat. The current 8th Congressional District is considered a swing district that either party can win, and the renumbered 2nd Congressional District that will replace it for the general election is also a toss-up, although slightly more Democratic.
Those already in the Democratic race say ‘ifs’ about whether Barber will run are the furthest thing from their minds.
“That is a hypothetical that has so many more hypotheticals around it,’ Aboud said recently. “You have to say, ‘what is he going to do if he runs and wins in the special and then runs, or what if he runs in the special and loses and then runs.’
“So, you know, nobody’s thinking about it, I just have to tell you,” she said. “This is what we’re thinking about: We’re thinking about our own campaigns and we’re thinking about how to get Ron elected.”
Heinz and Farley also demurred when asked whether they would drop out of the race if Barber decided to seek a full term.
“The real focus here is getting elected, and we need to see what happens after the (special) general election,” Farley said last week. “So it’s incumbent on all of us who are in this race to work as hard as we can right now to get our resources in place for a good competitive run in November and be able to keep that seat.”
Konst said she’ll deal with that issue if and when it comes up.
Giffords resigned from her seat Jan. 25, just over a year after she was shot at a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson. Six people were killed and 13 others, including Barber and Giffords, were wounded. She’s said she needs to focus on recovering from the gunshot wound she suffered to the head, and is living in Houston with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.
She endorsed Barber two weeks after stepping down, ending a drama that played out as she tried to recruit a replacement who would earn her endorsement.
Barber’s decision not to immediately say if he would see a full term puzzled some, especially because he would surely win that Giffords endorsement too.
“It may be that what he’s doing is waiting on some polling data. That’s just a speculation, that once he gets some polling data he’ll have a better sense of his chances in the special, and then he’ll see,” said William Dixon, a University of Arizona political science professor.
His campaign consultant, Rodd McLeod, said Sunday that he remains focused on the 8th District race and is still considering whether to run for a full term representing the new 2nd District.
Dixon said that if Barber wins the special election, which he considers likely, and decides to run in the general, the other Democrats would probably drop out, no matter what they say now. Giffords’ endorsement is ‘huge,’ he said, and combined with incumbent status would give him a nearly insurmountable advantage over other Democrats in the general election primary race.
“That’s not anything it takes a political scientist to understand, so the other Democrats are going to know that as well,” Dixon said. “And I think partly it’s going to depend on by how much he wins in the special, and what the statistics look like. But they’re going to know it’s an uphill battle and it may not be worthwhile doing. So I think they’d been tempted to drop out at that point.