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Giffords, History and True Arizona Grit

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, made a grand entrance Monday night at the Capitol to vote on increasing the debt ceiling.

Colleagues in Congress have ensured that money will not be an issue by holding fundraisers in her stead. And so far, no Republicans have indicated publicly that they are interested in challenging her. The candidate filing deadline is May 26.

Monday's events also transformed the politics of any potential re-election.

All of a sudden, the bar for missing a vote was set much higher. And just try, as a political opponent, to use that vote against her.

Giffords was already immensely popular in Arizona, and on Capitol Hill, before the Jan. 8 shooting rampage that critically injured her and killed six people, including her community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman, and federal Judge John Roll.

She was a moderate, inspired to public service by O'Connor. A third-generation Arizonan — rare for the fast-growing state — she returned to Tucson from graduate school and a brief consulting gig in New York to run the family tire business. Shortly after, she won a state House seat. She was elected at age 32 to the state Senate, the youngest woman to ever achieve that position.

In 2006, she won an open House seat when Kolbe retired, and she continued winning tough races in a swing district, including during 2010's GOP wave year.

People simply liked her. She drove a motorcycle, rode horses, spoke Spanish, owned guns and married an astronaut, Mark Kelly. She was all-American and all-Arizonan.

Still, she was young and only in her third term. There was plenty of time to become just another politician.

Then, the shooting happened and the world took notice. Perhaps it's not fair that in a traumatic event such as that, so much attention would shift to one person.

Six were killed and 13 injured, after all, and the city of Tucson was shocked to be host to political violence — at a shopping center in its tony foothills, of all places.

But officials say she was the target of Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged assailant, and the grievous nature of her injury and the maliciousness of the attack stood in stark contrast to her sunny public persona.

Her miraculous recovery was touted as a tribute to her bravery and pluck. Typical of this line of thinking was an editorial cartoon by the Arizona Daily Star's David Fitzsimmons that ran on Jan. 12. It depicted a man and woman in front of a movie theater showing "True Grit."

"I understand it's about Congresswoman Giffords," said the man.

Tombstone, Ariz. — part of Giffords' district — is "the town too tough to die," a place where there are daily re-enactments of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Giffords became the Congresswoman too tough to kill.

By the time President Barack Obama went to Tucson for the "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America" memorial event at the University of Arizona on Jan. 12, the city had started to heal along with Giffords.

Obama told the capacity crowd at the McKale Memorial Center that Giffords had, just before the event, opened her eyes for the first time since being shot.

The crowd was ready for the good news and roared.

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