- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2012

PHOENIX - Ron Barber, a top aide to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot in the leg and face in the Tucson rampage that also left the congresswoman severely wounded, said Thursday that he will seek to replace her in a special election.

The Democrat declared he would run to serve the last six months of Ms. Giffords‘ term, after she stepped down last month to focus on her recovery. He said that Ms. Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, asked him to run.

Mr. Kelly posted on Facebook that he and his wife support Mr. Barber and urged donations to his campaign.

Because of good will in Tucson for Ms. Giffords and Mr. Barber after the shooting, the joint endorsement stands to help Democrats keep the seat, said William Dixon, a University of Arizona political science professor. “The Republicans are going to have a real hard time with this endorsement.”

Mr. Barber was Ms. Giffords‘ district director and worked with her since 2006. The special election to fill her 8th Congressional District seat in Arizona is set for the spring.

Mr. Barber said he has not decided whether to run for a full two-year term in the regular election set for November in the redrawn 2nd District.

“I’m not a politician, never run for office before, so I’m taking this one step at a time,” he said. “I’ll make a decision about [the race] a little later on, but right now I’m really focused on really getting the immediate work done to get myself going for this campaign.”

Mr. Barber and Ms. Giffords were among 13 people wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011, attack outside a Tucson supermarket. Six others were killed, including a 9-year-old girl.

The suspect in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, 23, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the shooting. Mental health experts have determined Mr. Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to make him fit to stand trial.

Mr. Barber, 66, is a former administrator in the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s division of developmental disabilities. He retired in 2006 to work for Ms. Giffords.

One other Democrat, state Rep. Matt Heinz, has announced plans to run for the seat. With Mr. Barber’s announcement, Mr. Heinz said Thursday he will respect Ms. Giffords‘ endorsement and now only run for a full term in November.

“I will refocus my efforts for the fall,” he said.

Five Republicans are now in the race, including 2010 Giffords challenger Jesse Kelly, Tucson broadcaster Dave Sitton and state Sen. Frank Antenori. Also running in the special primary are former Air Force pilot Martha McCally and John Lervold, a civilian instructor at the Army’s Fort Huachuca.

A National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman responded to Mr. Barber’s announcement by saying voters are entitled to “a full debate” on border security and economic issues.

“No one wanted this special election to happen, but it comes at a time when Arizona and our country are at a critical crossroads,” said NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.