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The dates for the special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) are set. The field is not.

The race is a true tossup and an opening for any ambitious Tucson-area Republican or Democrat. But in the nine days since Giffords announced she would resign, Republicans have been publicly announcing, organizing and fundraising. On the Democratic side, at least on the surface, all is quiet.

One Democrat, Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers, told Roll Call that there is hope within the party that Giffords staffer Ron Barber might run only to finish out the ex-Congresswoman’s current term.

Barber was shot twice in the January 2011 Safeway shooting, and Rogers emphasized that there is uncertainty over whether Barber is physically capable of running for public office.

“I think that’s what everyone’s hoping,” Rogers said about the idea of a Barber run. “He’d be wonderful to carry on for the rest of the year. It’d be a great honor for him and a well-deserved honor.”

On Friday evening, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer issued a proclamation establishing the dates for the special primary and general elections in the 8th district. The primary election will take place
April 17, and the general election will be June 12.

Potential Democratic candidates might be waiting to see whether Giffords, who stepped down last week, offers an early endorsement — a move that would no doubt clear the field.

Trying to read the Giffords tea leaves, however, has been fruitless. Democrats will not even begin to speculate about when, or even whether, Giffords might offer an endorsement.

But behind-the-scenes conversations are happening and campaign organizing is occurring.

Rogers said the local party is in a “wait-and-see” stance.

Republicans are much more active. Veteran Jesse Kelly, who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010, is poised to announce his candidacy.

On Friday, state Sen. Frank Antenori (R) became the first major candidate to officially get in the race.

One Arizona Democrat said Antenori and Kelly are flawed candidates and have made statements that in the political climate after the shootings will be used against them.

Also on the radar is college sports TV broadcaster Dave Sitton (R).

“We are in the process of making the decision regarding a potential candidacy and will be making an announcement very soon,” according to a request for comment from his exploratory effort.

His committee announced Monday that it will hold a fundraiser with former University of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson on Thursday, soliciting a photo opportunity with the coach for “max contributors” who donate $2,500.

Potential Democratic candidates on the radar include state Sen. Linda Lopez of Tucson, who is close to Giffords; state Senate Minority Whip Paula Aboud; state Reps. Steve Farley and Matt Heinz; Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez; and businesswoman Nan Stockholm Walden.

By the numbers, Arizona’s 8th is a tossup. The winner of this race will have to face re-election in the fall in a redrawn district that closely resembles the 8th but will be numbered the 2nd. The redrawn district is slightly more favorable to Democrats than the 8th.

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