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Giffords Endorsement Talk Swirls Around House Staffer

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Pool)
(Saul Loeb/AFP/Pool)

In Tucson, Ariz., all anyone in politics is talking about is the special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D).

And that discussion has focused on one man, Ron Barber, who currently works for the 8th district’s interim Congressional office and was one of the staffers injured during the January 2011 shooting rampage.

“We’re hearing that there’s a strong likelihood that Ron Barber will be announcing in the next few days,” Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said. “It’s not certain yet, but it seems likely.”

Rogers added that Barber would be “an ideal candidate” because he could be a placeholder for the seat until the 2012 fall election. Rogers noted that there would be no disruption of staff or constituent services.

Rogers claimed no direct knowledge from Giffords herself. Roll Call was unable to confirm local reports that a Barber candidacy or a Giffords endorsement is imminent.

Roll Call reached out via email to Barber a week ago when it became clear that he was a serious contender for the seat. Despite a follow-up, Roll Call has been unable to obtain comment from him.

What is certain is that practically every Democratic strategist has heard rumors about the fluctuating field. The intensity of the rumors has become a source of frustration for all involved.

One Tucson Democrat who says he is close to Giffords pushed back on the story. He said he personally wants a Barber run to happen but was unsure of his capacity to run and serve in Congress with his injuries. He had heard no word either way about whether Giffords has made a decision.

A Democratic strategist in the state voiced concern that a Giffords announcement has taken so long.

“I heard they want to keep it in the family,” he said, referring to the seat and her staff. But he added that Democrats feel as if they are paralyzed waiting on a Giffords decision as the Republican field moves ahead.

On the GOP side, two more candidates entered the special election to finish out Giffords’ term in the 8th district.

Veteran Jesse Kelly and college sports TV broadcaster Dave Sitton both formally announced their candidacies Friday.

Kelly’s narrow 2010 loss to Giffords would seem like a strong selling point to the GOP electorate. But Arizona Democrats say they see his campaign far differently.

Hours after the Safeway rampage on Jan. 8, 2011, liberal websites lit up with posts linking to an Arizona Daily Star article from June 2010, months before the shooting.

The story noted that Kelly had posted a $50 fundraising event on his campaign’s website. The page displayed “a stern-looking photo of the former Marine in military garb holding his weapon.” The page’s headline said: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Later on the day of the shooting, Kelly tweeted his condolences to the victims of the shootings and their families, including Giffords.

State Sen. Frank Antenori was the first Republican to officially announce he would run for the seat. State Rep. Matt Heinz was the first on the Democratic side.

The primary will be held April 17, and the special election will be June 12.

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