Gabrielle Giffords feeds anticipation by staying mum on Democratic convention

Gabrielle Giffords and her Democratic circle are staying mum — and thus feeding anticipation — about whether the former lawmaker will make an appearance at the Democratic National Convention.

The retired Arizona congresswoman, who has become a larger-than-life national symbol for bipartisan cooperation, is known for making surprise appearances, and Democrats could be saving her as an ace, sure to galvanize the base in a way few can.

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Just seven months after being shot in the head during a small public event in her district, Giffords shocked her Capitol Hill colleagues when she walked onto the House floor for the first time during a vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling.

That kind of surprise would bring convention delegates to their feet and give the news networks — who've complained about the scheduled, predictability of the conventions — something to show over and over again.

Giffords stepped down from office in January in order to focus on her physical recovery, but the 42-year-old has indicated her desire to attend the convention, which starts Sept. 4 in Charlotte, N.C.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), one of Giffords’s closest friends on Capitol Hill and the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told a reporter in June that she anticipated the Arizona Democrat would make an appearance at her party’s biggest political event of the year.

“You know, I expect that she will,” said Wasserman Schultz at a press conference in Charlotte. “In fact I’m going to see her in D.C. this afternoon and I’m sure we’ll probably talk about that. We’ve already talked about it. I think she’d very much like to go.”

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz told The Hill that he didn’t know whether Giffords was planning to attend. He directed questions to a spokeswoman for the convention, who declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Giffords said the former lawmaker has not decided whether or not to attend.

"Gabby and Mark have not yet made a decision about whether they will attend the convention," said spokeswoman Haley Zachary in an email to The Hill.

Obama administration officials and Democratic convention organizers have been releasing a slow drip of speakers, closely guarding some of the week's worth of events until they are either finalized or will have the biggest news impact in being announced.

Democratic strategists put the chances of Giffords showing up at the convention pretty high, and are holding out hopes that she will address the masses. She has not spoken publicly since the shooting but gave an interview to ABC News in November.

“I hope she will speak,” said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist with the Raben Group.

“Gabby Giffords is an American hero and she helps us see beyond the partisanship to the things that tie us together as a nation. Democrats would give her a passionate welcome and I expect most Americans would feel excited to see her progress in recovery.”

Giffords’s husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said that he and his wife would love to make it to the convention, but a big factor for the former lawmaker will be her health, according to an April interview with Charlotte's WSOC-TV. For much of her 20-month recovery, Giffords has been attending physical rehabilitation sessions almost daily.

Iconic political figures are not foreign to braving challenging health conditions to stand up for their party, especially at such a high-profile event as a national convention.

In 2008, fresh off of his latest chemotherapy and radiation round, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) got clearance from his doctor to fly to Denver, where he delivered a speech in support of then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on the opening night of the convention.

His appearance was in doubt until he stepped onto the stage, bringing the hall to its feet and tears to the eyes of many.

Another concern may be the incredibly high level of political partisanship that is inherent at the convention. Obama and his team are aiming to draw as stark a line as possible between four more years of a Democratic White House and what a presidency under Republican Mitt Romney could look like.

For Giffords, who is well known for bipartisan flare, it could prove to be an ostracizing occasion, though the former lawmaker has been an adamant supporter of her party in the past.

If she does not attend, Simmons said he expects the convention to honor her in some fashion, perhaps with a video tribute or some other acknowledgement.

-- This story was updated at 8:43 p.m.