Democrat Ron Barber, who lost his last congressional race to Republican Martha McSally in November 2014 by just 167 votes, said he would not seek another rematch with McSally in 2016 during an appearance last Sunday on "Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel".
"It's been a hard decision," Barber said. "For the last three-and-a-half months, we've been talking about within my family and with friends and with folks around the country. I've been urged to run by people here and back in D.C. Everything considered, my decision is we won't launch another campaign in 2016."
Barber cited his family as "the most important reason" he would not run again.
"I realized when I got back and was no longer in Congress, how much I missed time with my grandkids, my wife, my daughters and their husbands," he said. "And the last three-and-a-half months have given me time with them, and it's very precious time. I don't want to lose that again."
Barber was first elected to Congress in 2012 in a June special election to complete the term of his former boss, Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down from Congress to concentrate on her recovery from injuries suffered when a gunman opened fire at her Congress on Your Corner event in January 2011. Six people were killed in the mass shooting and 12 others were wounded alongside Giffords, including Barber, who was shot twice.
Barber, who inherited much of Giffords' well-organized political machine, defeated Republican Jesse Kelly in the special election and then went on in the November 2012 to defeat McSally by fewer than 2,500 votes in Arizona's Congressional District 2, which has a slight Republican edge but remains one of the most competitive districts in the country, as it is evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents.
Other candidates looking to challenge McSally in 2016 include state lawmaker Bruce Wheeler, who has already filed paperwork with the FEC to explore a campaign, and former state lawmaker Matt Heinz, who recently quit his D.C.-based job with the federal Health and Human Services and returned to Tucson, where he works as a physician at Tucson Medical Center.
Wheeler and Heinz both thanked Barber for his service after he made his announcement on Sunday.
"Ron has worked tirelessly for our community for decades," Wheeler said on Facebook. "His service and dedication, including most recently as our congressperson, is much appreciated. I want to thank him for his many accomplishments and wish him and Nancy the very best."
Wheeler told the Weekly he was moving forward with his plans to run for Congress.
Heinz, who challenged Barber in the 2012 Democratic primary, said he had not yet decided whether to run, but he criticized McSally for voting to return to the pre-Obamacare status quo with her January vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering a replacement.
"I think Southern Arizona deserves better than our current representation," Heinz said via text message. "My patients, especially seniors, shouldn't be asked to pay more for their medications, yet that's exactly what McSally voted for during her first month in office."
Any Democratic challenger will have to demonstrate an ability to raise millions of dollars to be competitive with McSally. Between McSally, Barber and various outside groups, some $14 million dollars were spent in Congressional District 2 in 2014.
Barber noted on "Zona Politics" that it was an outrageous amount of money for a single congressional race.
"That's absurd," Barber said. "No congressional race should be $14 million."
He said that the high spending levels were "hurting out democracy. ... We have to take action, in Congress and across the country, to deal with this dark money and the millions of dollars—billions of dollars, really—that can be spent. It's just not good for democracy and I think we need to put an end to it ... The American people have to realize that this is taking their vote away. When you buy an election because you've got billions of dollars, that's wrong and it needs to stop."
McSally, who raised $4.8 million in the 2012 election cycle (compared to Barber's $4 million), announced yesterday that she had raised another $640,000 in the first quarter of 2015.
"The incredible support Martha is seeing after being in office only a few months is an unmistakable sign of approval for the energetic representation she brings to Southern Arizona," said McSally campaign spokesman Patrick Ptak, who is also working as the spokesman for her congressional office. (Ptak told the Weekly he is volunteering his time as campaign spokesman.)
Whether the district will stay in its current competitive form remains to be seen. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a lawsuit filed by GOP state lawmakers to eliminate the authority of the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw congressional lines in Arizona. Many court watchers believe that the court's majority is leaning toward ruling in favor of the lawmakers, who maintain that the U.S. Constitution gives them the sole authority to draw congressional district boundaries.
Barber said there were many things he misses about being in Congress.
"I enjoyed the job immensely but I think it's time for me to stick with the family and do the things we enjoy doing together," he said.