Ron Barber’s campaign for Congress launched full throttle today. After weeks of speculation about whether he would run to succeed his boss, ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Barber made it official, telling reporters that the Arizona Democrat personally asked him to run for her seat.
On a telephone call with reporters Giffords' former district director said the Congresswoman asked a few weeks ago, “Ron, will you run?” He said after deliberating with his family, he made his decision on Tuesday and resigned from his job. He will have the full support of Giffords, who resigned Jan. 25, and her husband, Mark Kelly.
Barber described his health as “great.” Many of those reading the tea leaves before his announcement wondered if his health would be an impediment to running for and serving in Congress. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could,” he said.
But even as Barber’s announcement brings some clarity to the Democratic side of the 8th district special election, new questions arose from Barber's briefing.
Before Barber's announcement, the belief had been that he would run only in the special election and not seek a full term in the in Tucson-based seat.
That is no longer the case. Barber told reporters he has not decided if he will run in the fall if he wins the April special election. The November contest will be in a redrawn district that is slightly more favorable for Democrats and will be numbered as the 2nd instead of the 8th.
“I’m not trying to be cute or coy; I’ve just got work to do,” he said. Barber then stressed that he needs “to focus on getting the [campaign] operation going” for the special election before he can make a decision about the fall campaign.
Ambitious Democrats in the district have been patient and supportive of a Barber run. His decision and the subsequent Giffords endorsement clears the Democratic field for the special.
But most of the potential candidates were under the impression that it would be only for the special election. Both overtly and under the radar, Democrats were positioning themselves for runs in the fall.
Despite the overwhelming amount of emotion surrounding the circumstances of his announcement, Barber is not assured election to the House. The district is currently a tossup but has a slight Republican bent.
Both Republicans and Democrats describe Giffords as uniquely able to win in the traditionally Republican district. Even then, her 2010 re-election was a squeaker.
Republicans face a difficult and unusual political strategy: How do you run a campaign against a man who was shot twice while serving his district? The refrain among Republicans is to focus on the issues, not the person.
One Arizona Republican strategist who is not working for any of the candidates in the special was willing to be more specific. He would run against Washington and President Barack Obama, and ignore Barber completely. He would also encourage the press to question whether Barber, who is still recovering from his injuries, would be able to physically handle the rigors of serving in Congress.
Barber insisted today he is up to the job and the campaign. He also insisted that he would not engage in harsh rhetoric like 2010.
“I’m going to take the high road and be respectful and civil,” Barber said.