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Political Futures

Arizona's new congressional map scrambles the electoral landscape

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Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led thousands of Tucsonans on the UA mall in the Pledge of Allegiance on Sunday, Jan. 8, punctuating her delivery with an emphatic vow to stand for "liberty and justice for all!"

Giffords' onstage appearance marked the first anniversary of the day that a crazed gunman opened fire at her Congress on Your Corner event, killing six and wounding 13.

Sunday evening's candlelight vigil capped a weekend of remembering the six people killed on Jan. 8, 2011: Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman and young Christina-Taylor Green.

In memory of those lost—as well as those who were wounded or otherwise touched by the day—Tucsonans headed to churches, concert halls, galleries and the great outdoors over the weekend.

But on Sunday night, all eyes were on Giffords as she made her first major public appearance since being shot through the head. Over the weekend, she also visited a memorial trailhead in Davidson Canyon that had been named for Zimmerman, her slain aide who had earned the nickname "the constituent whisperer" for his calm manner. She stopped by the Safeway at Ina and Oracle roads, where she had just set up shop when the gunman opened fire a year ago.

Giffords, who is struggling to regain her ability to speak, did not address the crowd outside of the recitation of the pledge, but she smiled through much of the ceremony as she sat close to her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and bobbed her head as musicians Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico joined with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra to perform one of her favorite songs, "Crystal Frontier."

She returned to Houston this week to continue her rehabilitation program, and Giffords herself remains in an uncharted frontier as she and her supporters try to decide whether she will seek re-election.

Her district, which will be known as Congressional District 2 in this year's election, has new political boundaries, thanks to the scrambling of political maps that comes with the redistricting process every decade.

Under the tentative final maps passed by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission at the end of 2011, CD2 is one of three competitive congressional districts in Arizona. It's home to roughly the same number of Democrats as Republicans: 34.7 percent of the voters are in the GOP, while 34.2 percent are Democrats, with the remainder mostly consisting of the independents who will decide future races.

Jeff Rogers, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, says he expects that Giffords will make her future intentions clear in the coming weeks.

"She loves this community too much to leave us hanging and cause a problem for holding that seat," Rogers says.

In the case that Giffords decides against running for re-election, several Democrats are already quietly developing support for campaigns, including state Sen. Paula Aboud and state Rep. Matt Heinz. Other names being mentioned in political circles include Tim Sultan, a Democrat who made unsuccessful runs for Congress and the Arizona Legislature in the past, and Nan Walden, a former Washington, D.C., lawyer who now owns a 7,000-acre pecan farm with her husband, Dick Walden, near Sahaurita.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Frank Antenori is exploring a run, as is local broadcaster Dave Sitton.

Political observers of both sides of the fence don't rule out other candidates jumping into the race if Giffords does not run.

Congressman Raul Grijalva's District 7 did not change much under the new map. The new Congressional District 3 still stretches across Southern Arizona westward from central Tucson to Yuma.

It's a heavily Democratic district—43 percent of the voters are Democrats, while just 22 percent are Republicans—and heavily Latino, in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. Some conservative precincts in the Yuma area have been moved into the new Congressional District 4, making Grijalva's re-election bid easier.

Still, he's likely to face a formidable GOP challenger, given that the Republicans nearly ousted him in 2010. And he's also already picked up a potential Democratic challenger in former state lawmaker Amanda Aguirre of Yuma, who has announced plans to run against the five-term incumbent.

Southern Arizona is now home to a third congressional district as well, thanks to the new map. Congressional District 1 stretches from the state's northern border through the city of Flagstaff, eastern rural areas, Marana, Oro Valley and the SaddleBrooke development.

Congressional District 1, like the new Congressional District 2, is considered a competitive district: 40 percent of voters are Democratic; 30 percent are Republican; and 30 percent are independents and third-party members.

Congressman Paul Gosar, a Republican who represents much of that area after unseating Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in 2010, announced last week that he'd be running in the new Congressional District 4, a solidly Republican district that includes much of rural Arizona on the west side of the state. Gosar's move puts him in a potential GOP primary with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who announced his own campaign last week, and state Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu, who has an exploratory committee for the district.

That leaves no incumbent in CD1, where Kirkpatrick is already seeking a comeback. She's expected to face Wenona Benally Baldenegro, of the Navajo nation, in the Democratic primary.

On the GOP side, potential candidates include Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce and former state lawmakers Bill Koponicki and Jonathan Paton.

Paton tells the Tucson Weekly he's considering a run.

"I've been talking to people about it," says Paton, who lost the GOP primary for Giffords' CD8 in 2010 to Jesse Kelly, the Republican newcomer who would go on to lose to Giffords by a few thousand votes. "I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from people who supported Jesse Kelly and (former CD8 opponent) Brian Miller."

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