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Even before her dramatic vote Monday to raise the debt limit, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was on her way to joining a rough-hewn elite of Arizona political figures.
The Grand Canyon State is full of larger-than-life characters, but true icons —such as the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and Rep. Morris Udall, and Sen. John McCain and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor — punched through to become part of the broader American culture.
Giffords' story this year, all the way from gravely injured shooting victim to returning lawmaker, places her in that company.
And it wasn't as if Giffords' first vote back was to name a post office. It was to raise the debt limit at the eleventh hour, a vote lawmakers bemoan — the quintessential no-win situation.
Vote against it, and you risk the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury. Vote for it, and you have to explain to folks in your district who might have trouble paying the rent on a two-bedroom apartment why $14 trillion isn't enough to cover the nation's IOUs.
No one expected her to be back, and the outcome of the bill wasn't really in doubt. No one would have thought twice about her missing this vote even if they had known she was in town.
But that's not really her style. And on a measure that consumed Congress and the White House for months and proved radioactive politically for all those involved, she proudly announced she was voting for it.
"After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge. I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics," Giffords said in a press release.
Her remarkable appearance signaled to political insiders from both parties in Tucson, Ariz., that the Congresswoman seems at least to be on pace to run for re-election.
"The reports from her campaign, Congressional staff and family have always been the same. Her main focus is on her recovery," Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said. "However, seeing her there for what could've been a close vote certainly makes us all optimistic that she's going to be back on the campaign trail."
Retired Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, whose seat Giffords holds, called what happened on the House floor Monday "an electric moment."
"I think it's an indication that she's serious about continuing to fulfill her duties and responsibilities," he said. "Whether that means she runs, I don't know, and I doubt she's made that decision yet."