In the fall of 2007, many local Democrats expressed genuine apprehension about the potential battle between state Senate President Tim Bee and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for her job in Congressional District 8. The district has more Republicans than Democrats. If you've been around long enough, you know that it was designed by, and for the convenience of, Jim Kolbe, who owned the district for 22 years.
However, some of us had a different view. We hoped that Bee would run against Giffords. The first time one stands for re-election is always a slugfest, and we reasoned that if Giffords took on the best candidate the Republican Party could put up, and if she not only won but found a way to hand him his hat, her future in politics would be assured. After all, if Rep. Giffords was as good as we thought she was, there were really no reasons to worry, right?
Time would tell.
A year later, having beaten Bee by a margin as great as that by which she dispatched right-wing candidate Randy Graf two years ago, she has now become a truly formidable adversary for anybody who might dream of challenging her.
The more the public came to know Giffords, the more they liked her. Giffords' success doesn't really have much to do with Tim Bee. The affection and respect with which Gabrielle is held by so many thousands of Arizonans is inspiring. Her popularity was high two years ago, but today, it is strong and wide and deep. Her commitment to serve the "middle" is obvious, and obviously genuine. Future candidates can try to go around her, or under her, or over her, but they are going to end up on the fringes of the southeastern Arizona electorate.
Certainly, few will have Tim Bee's advantages. Thoughtful, kind and moderate (or so it seemed at first), with a history of high-level public service, Bee was able to attract state and national attention, support and money. When was the last time a U.S. president came to Tucson to stump for a congressional candidate? However, in the end, Bee's use of Grover Norquist, Steve Forbes, Fred Thompson, Elaine Chao and President Bush served to blur the line between a moderate and an extreme agenda. I think that his critical role in Proposition 102 (which placed a ban on gay marriage in the state Constitution) revoked his membership in the league of moderates: Moderates do not champion wedge issues that drive (and are designed to drive) parts of our community out into the dark.
A word about fundraising: The candidate who raises the most money doesn't always win--but there's a strong correlation. The number of Giffords' individual contributors (around 8,000) was just a mirror of her deep popularity. Her campaign raised more money than any House campaign in Arizona history. But when Bee argues that he was a financial underdog, he fails to mention that Giffords actually spent little more than Bee did, and she still has nearly $750,000 in the bank.
Republicans are going to have trouble convincing local donors to support a third losing effort. Obviously, Bee lost because a majority of independents supported Giffords, along with a gratifying number of moderate Republicans.
The congresswoman's accessibility was legendary. Taxpayers loved having their representative show up at the local Safeway parking lot to talk one-on-one. Some 120 times in the last 24 months, she got on an airplane to cross the country, from Tucson to Washington, D.C., and back. That sends shivers up the back of anyone who has experienced the demands of cross-country air travel. The very thought of it makes me queasy.
Now that her second term is at hand, all signs point to a dramatic increase in what she'll be able to do for us. With seniority comes influence, and while her first term had successes that few first-term congresspersons ever enjoy, she was working with a Bush administration that usually didn't care. Under the Barack Obama administration, the influence of Congresswoman Giffords will soar. Trust me on this: I ran Mo Udall's office. As Gabrielle hits her stride with a Democratic administration, the afterburners are going to burn white-hot. You're going to see a congressional career at warp speed. We are going to benefit from her service in ways that are hard to predict.
Gentlelady: Start your engines.