Senior Dems not rushing Rep. Giffords

Democratic leaders say there is no timeline for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to decide whether she will run for Congress again, even as the campaign season shifts into high gear and the Democratic field is in a holding pattern awaiting her decision.

Giffords had been considered Democrats’ best contender for retiring Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) seat before a gunman shot her in the head in January, killed six others and set in motion a long and arduous recovery for the three-term congresswoman from Tucson, Ariz.

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Since then, Democrats have cleared the field for both the Senate seat and Giffords’s House seat in case she chooses to run for either. But with the clock ticking, some in the party are quietly noting that, at some point, Democrats will need to know how to proceed.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), one of Giffords’s closest friends in Congress, dismissed those concerns.

“We’re going to be competitive in this district regardless of who the candidate is. Gabby is making tremendous progress,” she told The Hill. “If ultimately she decides not to run, we’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to make sure the Democratic candidate is strong.”

But asked how much time that candidate would need, the Florida congresswoman declined to elaborate.

“I wouldn’t put a length of time on it, because Gabby is going to be given the opportunity she deserves to make a decision, and anything I might say would make it seem like we have a timeline, and we don’t,” Wasserman Schultz said.

In the meantime, party leaders are making sure Giffords will be prepared if she runs for office next year.

Wasserman Schultz said the DNC is ensuring Giffords has the resources she would need, and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat in the House, held a fundraiser Thursday on Giffords’s behalf.

“That’s the theory I’m operating under,” Clyburn said when asked if he expected Giffords would be a candidate next year, but added that the fast-paced nature of modern politics makes announcing early less crucial. “In this day and time, head starts are what they are.”

There is broad consensus among both Democrats and Republicans that Giffords is entitled to as much time as she and her family need to make a decision. But even that consensus can’t stop the clock.

Although the filing deadline in Arizona isn’t until the middle of 2012, the campaign season kicks into high gear following the August congressional recess, and the field in each race starts solidifying — especially for the Senate. 

But most potential House and Senate Democratic candidates are waiting on Giffords before announcing their 2012 plans, meaning the longer the congresswoman waits, the harder it is for these contenders to catch up on fundraising and getting the necessary campaign infrastructure into place — especially when Republicans are not under similar constraints.

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Kyl’s Senate seat is the one Democrats are most optimistic about flipping. But while the Democratic field has remained empty, Republicans are moving forward.

Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (R-Ariz.), who is polling miles ahead of the other candidates, has a war chest exceeding $2 million, as of the end of June.

David Waid, a former Arizona Democratic Party chairman, said the clock is ticking.

“I think we’re already in that zone of when it becomes difficult,” he said, adding that it takes millions of dollars to run statewide, and is time-consuming for those who can’t self-fund. “I think we’re already behind the eight-ball on this.”

But Waid pointed out that if Giffords enters late, she will have certain advantages and be able to fundraise prodigiously. It’s other Democrats who could have trouble.

“She will start this as America’s congresswoman, and everyone has a place in their heart for her. She’s the equivalent of an enormous self-funder,” he said.

One Democratic strategist in southern Arizona said Giffords had no intention to sit on a Senate decision, but was simply still deciding. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“Everyone who’s come to us and asked what we think, we say, ‘You should run for the U.S. Senate,’ ” the strategist said. “Gabby’s not going to keep anybody out of the race.”

Giffords’s campaign declined to comment, and her congressional office said it couldn’t discuss political matters.

But if she doesn’t run — or if she runs for reelection in the House instead — Democrats will see their chances to capture the Senate seat  deteriorate rapidly.

“I think it’s pretty clear that right now the Democrats’ team of potential candidates are in the B and C range,” said another Democratic strategist.

Rep. Ed PastorEdward (Ed) Lopez PastorWhich phone do lawmakers like the most? CAMPAIGN OVERNIGHT: Political tomfoolery Pastor endorses in race to replace him MORE (D-Ariz.) considered running for the seat early on, but has said he is waiting to see if Giffords recovers. Strategists in Arizona said they expected him to run for reelection in the House, where he enjoys seniority and serves on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Democrats tracking the field say that leaves two possible contenders who might be competitive, but both have their flaws.

Dr. Richard Carmona, a former surgeon general under President George W. Bush, has a solid out-of-state network that might help with fundraising, but could have trouble in the primary because he was previously a Republican.

State House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D) is considered a young maverick in the Legislature, though is new to leadership and would have a hard time proving he’s ready for Washington.

Giffords’s husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, had been touted as a possible Senate candidate, but has said he won’t run. Kelly and Giffords are co-authoring a book about the January shooting.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter predicted a highly competitive Senate race in Arizona. He declined to comment on recruitment efforts.

If Giffords decides to run again for her House seat, the timeline is less crucial, both because House races get started later and because it is widely assumed she would win reelection handily.

Republicans said they won’t compete at all in the district if Giffords decides to run. That’s significant, because under normal circumstances, her district would be a major GOP pickup opportunity. Giffords won reelection by just two points in 2010, and former Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican, held the seat for more than two decades before retiring.

It won’t be clear what the district will look like until after Arizona completes the redistricting process, which is currently tied up in the courts. Arizona is gaining a House seat due to population growth, so the drawing of the map will require a major reshuffling.

Whatever the district’s new boundaries, it is unlikely Giffords will face a reelection challenge of any seriousness. State Sen. Frank Antenori (R) formed an exploratory committee for the seat in August, but said he probably won’t run should Giffords be in the race.

Special education teacher Anthony Prowell, a Democrat, in August announced plans to run in the primary. Prowell has been sharply rebuked and shunned by fellow Democrats for challenging Giffords while she continues recovering from the gunshot wound that nearly ended her life.