Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Giffords’ shooting may damage Dem long-term efforts in Arizona

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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is making an incredible recovery from the horrible assassination attempt in Tucson. You keep hearing these stories about the slow process, and how well the representative is doing so far in that process.

And all of that is really, really great news.

But the untold story is that the shooting is going to do real damage not only to Rep. Giffords’ career but also to possible Democratic advances in a state that is becoming even more hostile to the Democratic Party.

The focus is on Giffords’ life, not her career — understandably. But at some point, the focus will have to be on what could have been, and what the shooter took beyond the loss of life and the injuries suffered in the attack.

This was posted in a chat on The Washington Post by political reporter Chris Cillizza one day before the shooting. Janet Napolitano had a shot at being a Democratic senator from Arizona had she remained governor. Napolitano would have been prohibited from running for governor again in 2010 and would likely have run for the Senate against John McCain.

And even if she had lost, President Obama would have put her in the administration.

The last Democratic senator from Arizona has one interesting footnote with Sen. McCain. Dennis DeConcini, like McCain, was one of the Keating Five: DeConcini wasn’t able to adjust his profile as well as McCain did, and he retired from the Senate in 1995.

Even in Arizona, there is no guarantee that Giffords could have broken that streak. But there is little chance that Giffords will have an opportunity.

As for the people of the 8th Congressional District in Arizona, they aren’t likely to get a vote in Congress in the near future. Like those in South Dakota when Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) spent most of 2007 incapacitated due to brain health issues, people just don’t get a vote if their representative is severely injured.

Senators have a bit of an error margin in that they only have to run every six years; representatives always have to look over their shoulder.

And let’s be honest: Republicans are looking at taking advantage of this tragedy to likely take the 8th district in 2012. They aren’t doing so publicly, and we aren’t accusing anyone of doing it. But silently, people are thinking about it, even at this point.

Giffords is the only Democratic politician to hold this Congressional seat.

Giffords will likely have a role in our society in making a difference. No one thinks that Rep. Giffords will stop trying to be a force. But the political reality — no matter how much sympathy Giffords might receive for her injuries — is that the conventional political path has come to an end.

If Giffords had been shot anywhere else other than her face and brain, the prognosis would be completely different. You can’t necessarily compare Giffords to former Reagan press secretary James Baker, but there may be more parallels than people are willing to discuss at this point.

Admittedly, this is a difficult topic to consider, especially at this point. But the reality is what it is; if you aren’t thinking about this, other people are. We wish her the best of luck in her recovery. And for the record, we hope Giffords will prove us wrong on multiple levels.


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