Image: Gabrielle Giffords
Susan Walsh And P.K. Weis  /  AP
At left, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords takes part in a re-enactment of her swearing-in on Jan. 5 in Washington, three days before she was shot as she met with constituents in Tucson, Ariz. At right, Giffords is seen on May 17 at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.
updated 6/13/2011 12:01:03 PM ET 2011-06-13T16:01:03

The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January has left Democrats in Arizona without a candidate for next year's U.S. Senate race even though party officials in Washington have declared the state a tremendous opportunity to pick up a seat.

Giffords would be the unquestionable favorite to represent the Democrats if she were able to run. As she undergoes therapy to recover from the January shooting, an alternative candidate has yet to emerge — in part, because of the uncertainty surrounding her political future.

"All of our hopes and faith were geared towards her," said Andrei Cherny, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. "Because of what happened in Tucson, I think people are now thinking through the decision themselves."

Story: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords releases 1st photos since being shot in head
  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

Some Democrats said the lack of an alternative at this stage is a worrisome sign that Democrats won't field a strong challenger against the GOP nominee, most likely to be Republican Rep. Jeff Flake. Incumbent Republican Jon Kyl is retiring after three terms in the Senate.

"We're stumbling around with names nobody knows," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. "We're left with second tiers, and that's too bad, because I don't think Flake should have a free ride and he's beatable."

Grijalva said he believes that time is drawing near for the Giffords camp to say whether she will run for the Senate. He made clear he had no intention of seeking the seat.

"There has been a deference and I think appropriately so," Grijalva said. "Now, I think it's kind of important to find out what their decision is going to be, because the more time that goes by, the lower the tier of candidates gets. Formidable people are going to defer to Gabby and that's appropriate, but like I said, at some point, some decisions have to be made."

Privately, some Democrats are pessimistic that her recovery will progress to the point she will run for the Senate. They view a run for her congressional seat as a more likely alternative.

Jim Pederson, the former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Giffords has plenty of time to decide and could win the Senate race even if she waited until 2012 before entering.

Video: New photos posted of Rep. Giffords (on this page)

"It can certainly wait until next year. If she were perceived in terms of her recovery to be a viable candidate, I think she could raise significant money overnight. She could conceivably wait another nine or 10 months, I think," Pederson said.

Pederson acknowledged that her possible candidacy may be scaring off other Democratic candidates.

Indeed, Pederson said he believe a Giffords candidacy would be so strong that any Democrats who jumped into the field now would probably step aside if she did get in.

Grijalva said it would be unreasonable to ask a Democratic candidate to enter the race as a potential placeholder.

"This is Arizona. This is hand-to-hand combat from this point forward," he said. "Once you're in the fight, you cannot step out."

Giffords has made remarkable progress in the last five months, with neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim describing it as "almost miraculous." Still, she remains a shadow of her former self. Pia Carusone, her chief of staff, told the Arizona Republic last week that Giffords can express her basic wants and needs, but has difficulty stringing together sentences to verbalize more complex thoughts and feelings. Giffords, she said, relies heavily on hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate.

Video: First pictures of Gabrielle Giffords released (on this page)

"She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing," Carusone said.

The description matches what experts expect from someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. Often, they can be easily disoriented, have trouble prioritizing, suffer from some memory loss and could have difficulty recognizing people. Some have difficulty doing several tasks at the same time.

Most cognitive recovery occurs in the first six months to a year after an injury, though it becomes less noticeable as time progresses. In the second year, progress sharply drops.

Carusone said it is too early to say whether she will resume her position in Congress. She says they have until May 2012 to decide.

The staff also released photographs of Giffords on Sunday. The photos show her with shorter, darker hair but few signs she suffered a gunshot wound to the head. The timing coincides with plans to release Giffords from the hospital later this month or in early July.

Democratic officials in Washington and Phoenix stressed that it's still quite early in the election cycle. Cherny said he had talked to several potential candidates interested in running, some currently in politics and others viewed as civic and business leaders.

"If we go into the fall and we still don't have a candidate, people will start getting anxious. I think people understand that we still have the summer to have candidates start stepping forward," Cherny said.

Pederson, who ran and lost to Kyl in 2006, said several factors are behind the lack of candidates so far.

"I think it's the perceived strength of Representative Flake. It's also very difficult to raise money in this economic environment," Pederson said. "Plus, over the last several years we have not been able to develop a bullpen of candidates that could take on higher office. I do think that is an anomaly and not reflective of where the state is going politically."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Giffords' smile a welcome sight

  1. Closed captioning of: Giffords' smile a welcome sight

    >>> now we have the latest tonight on congresswoman gabby giffords ' recovery from that gunshot wound she suffered back in january and those newly released photos over the weekend showing her smile intact. jay gray covering tonight in houston , hey, jay, good evening.

    >> reporter: the photos were taken here at the memorial hospital in houston and provide the best glimpse of gabby giffords since the attack, but few answers about her long-term recovery. in the new photos released by giffords staff, her hair is shorter, darker and she's wearing glasses, but friends say giffords smile is the one her family and friends know so well. it's the smile that's a welcome sight in tucson where so many are still coping with the tragedy.

    >> it's reassuring for the community to see that she's doing okay.

    >> patricia maisch was there that day.

    >> i did not expect her to look that great. i think she looks fabulous for what she's been through.

    >> reporter: these are the first public photographs of giffords since the attack, but say little about how her recovery is going. she attended her husband's shuttle launch that's a major milestone in her recovery. but just last week, the chief of staff in her recovery has said when it comes to bigger and -- three days later the month-old photos were releases.

    >> she spoke to me in sentences, initiated with those sentences instead of just responding which is what she's only been able to do until recently. she's making incredible process.

    >> progress she's making in time.

    >> this is a hidden injury that really takes months to years to fully heal and to improve.

    >> reporter: though her friends and family will tell you, brian, there's one thing it's impossible to hide and needs no improvement, it's that smile.

    >> jay gray in houston with


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments