Rep. Grijalva: Arizona Dems can't hold Senate nod for Rep. Giffords

Some Arizona Democrats are nervous that the party is letting an opportunity to capture the state’s soon-to-be open Senate seat slip away by waiting to see if Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) recovers in time to run.

Giffords is rehabilitating at the Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston after being shot in the head in January, but some of her colleagues have hinted she may soon recover from the injury.

“She’s running a campaign from the hospital,” Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) told KSNV, the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, in March. Giffords's campaign subsequently reported raising more than $350,000 in the first quarter of 2011, bringing her account balance to $556,013.

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But as questions linger over whether Giffords will be physically able to meet the demands of a tough Senate campaign, the expected Republican nominee is moving quickly to gain an edge. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) seems to have avoided a contentious primary and has been steadily building his campaign war chest. His latest fundraising report shows he has $1.5 million banked for his run.

That troubles Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

"I think the heir apparent was Gabby Giffords. Her situation is different, obviously,” he said. "We need to get a candidate quick, within the next month."

“It's not even about raising money," he added: "It's somebody that you put out there, that's going to be credible — whether that's Terry Goddard, whether it's Jim Pederson, whether it's Ed Pastor."

Rep. Ed Pastor (D), an 11-term congressman, reported having more than $1.3 million banked as of March 31, which would make him competitive against Flake. Pastor has said he’s “looking” at a possible run, but indicated last week he’s no closer to a decision. “I’m working on redistricting,” he said.

Grijalva said the Democratic bench is deeper than just Pastor, and that he "would encourage" Terry Goddard, a former attorney general who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, and Jim Pederson, a businessman who challenged Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) for the seat in 2006, to mount bids.

"They can raise money and they've done it before," Grijalva said. "I think given the way the climate's changing, we'd have a credible shot at it."

Other Democrats also view Arizona as a potential Senate pick-up opportunity. The head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put the open-seat contest among the top six races that the party will target in 2012, in part, because of the Giffords shooting.

"What happened to Gabby Giffords changed the political landscape of Arizona, and I know that we will have a Democratic candidate there and we are giving them the space to work their way through that," Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) told reporters Thursday.

“It changed the climate of the voters and how they view the process, but the dynamics have changed as well. Remember, [Republican Sen. John] McCain is not on the ballot this time against President Obama and the changing demographics of that state," she said. "That's why I put it on my six list.”

Murray insisted the party can be competitive with or without Giffords as its nominee. 

"We will have a Democratic candidate," she said, firmly.


—Shane D’Aprile contributed.