The hasty race to fill Gabrielle Giffords’ former seat in Congress has set up a contest between her chosen Democratic successor and a mix of Republican candidates that could help to augur the outcome of other toss-up races throughout Arizona and the nation. The district that covers part of Tucson, Sierra Vista and a section of the U.S.-Mexico border is nearly split between Republicans and Democrats. Now, with a primary on Tuesday, candidates are scrambling to lock up the rest of their support, even as emotions remain raw over the 2011 shooting, which killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords. One GOP leader near Tucson choked up last month while wishing the three-term Democrat well before a debate among the four Republican candidates.
Giffords’ announcement in January that she would step down to focus on her recovery threw the district, where she would have been a shoo-in for re-election, into a free-for-all. Four Republicans — some with little name recognition, some who had to move back to the district — jumped into the race. The Democratic field also quickly attracted candidates, but they all dropped out and threw their support behind Ron Barber, Giffords’ former district director and the person she has endorsed to succeed her. Barber, who also was injured in the shooting at Giffords’ constituent event at a Safeway near Tucson, says he never intended to run for office. But “we have deep roots in this community,” said Barber, who took bullets to the leg and cheek. “For me it’s about public service.”
Before his work with Giffords, Barber spent more than three decades as a director with the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, ran a Tucson retail shop with his wife that sold second-hand children’s clothing and advocated for mental-health issues. After the shooting, Barber’s family created a non-profit to promote civility. He promises he won’t run personal attack ads on opponents.