The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January has left Democrats in Arizona without a candidate for next year's U.S. Senate race even though party officials in Washington have declared the state a tremendous opportunity to pick up a seat.
Mrs. Giffords would be the unquestionable favorite to represent the Democrats if she were able to run. As she undergoes therapy to recover from the January shooting, an alternative candidate has yet to emerge - in part, because of the uncertainty surrounding her political future.
"All of our hopes and faith were geared towards her," said Andrei Cherny, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. "Because of what happened in Tucson, I think people are now thinking through the decision themselves."
Some Democrats said the lack of an alternative at this stage is a worrisome sign that Democrats won't field a strong candidate to face the Republican nominee, most likely to be Rep. Jeff Flake. Incumbent Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican, is retiring after three terms in the chamber.
"We're stumbling around with names nobody knows," said Democratic Rep. Raul M. Grijalva. "We're left with second tiers, and that's too bad, because I don't think Flake should have a free ride and he's beatable."
Mr. Grijalva said he thinks time is drawing near for the Giffords camp to say whether she will run for the Senate. He made clear he had no intention of seeking the seat.
"There has been a deference and I think appropriately so," Mr. Grijalva said. "Now, I think it's kind of important to find out what their decision is going to be, because the more time that goes by, the lower the tier of candidates gets."
Jim Pederson, the former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Mrs. Giffords has plenty of time to decide and could win the Senate race even if she waited until 2012 before entering.
Mrs. Giffords has made remarkable progress in the last five months, with neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim describing it as "almost miraculous." Still, she remains a shadow of her former self.
Pia Carusone, her chief of staff, told the Arizona Republic last week that Mrs. Giffords can express her basic wants and needs, but has difficulty stringing together sentences to verbalize more complex thoughts and feelings and relies heavily on hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate.
"She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing," Ms. Carusone said.
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