With just about everyone startled by the announcement Sunday from three-term Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) that she was resigning from Congress this week, no one really wanted discuss the political outlook in her soon-to-be open 8th District (Tucson). Almost to a person, Republicans, Democrats, supporters and opponents are hoping for the best for the lawmaker known universally as “Gabby,” who gave as her reason for resigning to have further rehabilitation for the gunshot wounds she suffered in the tragic events of Jan. 8, 2011.
Because of the worldwide sympathy and hopes for the wounded congresswoman, few recall that she barely eked out re-election in 2010 and that her district is historically Republican. From when it was first created in 1982 until Giffords’ first election to Congress in 2006, the district elected a Democratic House Member only once. That was in ’82, following a tumultuous Republican primary, when moderate GOP nominee Jim Kolbe lost to Democrat Jim McNulty. Two years later, Koble turned the tables on McNulty and went on to serve in Congress for 22 years.
When Kolbe stepped down in ’06 and 8th District Republicans nominated his arch-nemesis, anti-illegal immigration leader Randy Graf, the outgoing congressman was silent about who he would vote for. Democrat Giffords took the district. She never won her two subsequent re-elections by impressive margins and, in fact, her 2010 contest with conservative GOPer Jesse Kelly was one of the closest House races in the nation that year. It was only as Thanksgiving approached that Giffords was certified the winner by less than 1 per cent of the vote.
Now that the seat is open, the 30-year -old Kelly–a U.S. Marine veteran of the Iraq war who works in a local construction company–is likely to be the GOP nominee once again. Among Democrats, the most oft-mentioned name is that of Pia Carusone, Giffords’ much-liked chief of staff. Carusone received considerable publicity as the voice of the congresswoman’s staff and office following her wounding last January.
It will be days before the political speculating and maneuvering starts in Arizona’s 8th District. But for now, the attention is on the congresswoman who is leaving the political stage for events that most Americans will remember sadly for a long time to come.