The 2012 cycle has seen a constant stream of special elections, but the contest to replace Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) will be unlike most others. That’s because this district is often referred to as “Gabby’s seat.”
While both parties view it as highly competitive, some Democrats say they believe a Giffords endorsement could not only tilt the primary in one Democrat’s direction but also play an outsized role in the general election.
“This Congressional seat is going to be Gabby Giffords’ forever, regardless of who sits in that seat,” Democratic consultant Mario Diaz said. “So the emotional anchor attached to this district is going to go to the Democrat who wins.”
“I can’t think of a more powerful endorsement than her,” one Democratic strategist said. “You would have to have an unbelievable campaign fundraising operation to have a prayer of running against her endorsement.”
One Republican strategist noted that an endorsee who is personally close to Giffords, like a family member or a staffer, would mean more to voters than a generic Democratic politician. “People are still capable of making rational electoral decisions even when there’s a lot to get emotional about,” the strategist said.
The dust is still settling less than two days after Giffords shocked just about everyone in Arizona politics. No candidates had officially stepped forward as of Monday afternoon, and neither party was expressing outward confidence in winning the seat.
Privately, Democrats can’t be happy about the likelihood of having to spend money to keep Giffords’ seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, aiming to pick up 25 seats in November, has spent nearly $1.1 million on a Jan. 31 special election in a safe Democratic district in Oregon.
Republicans and Democrats say Giffords would have cruised to re-election had she chosen to run, but her exit leaves open a competitive district. Because of the makeup of the current district, there is a good chance both parties will spend money on the race.
Before Giffords made her announcement, the national Republican Party line was that there was no appetite to challenge her, despite the district’s competitiveness.
With Giffords out, Republicans are looking to play hard for the seat.
“We view this as a competitive race that provides an opportunity for a strong Republican candidate to win,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. “This district has always been competitive, and it remains competitive.”
The race is expected to take shape this week. Her resignation will be read on the House floor Wednesday, though there was some confusion within Giffords’ office about when it will take effect.
“You’ll see a couple of really serious candidates emerge in the next 72 hours, I would say,” Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said.