With Gabrielle Giffords Resigning, Special Election Starts Taking Shape

A day after announcing her resignation from Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) may be in the position to pick her successor as a crowded Democratic primary field shape up to fill her Tucson seat.

At least four Democrats and one Republican are mulling campaigns for Giffords' office in the special election that will be called by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to fill the seat for the remainder of 2012 using the current district lines. The special election will likely occur around June, right as the field shapes up to elect a member of Congress for the new district encompassing parts of Tucson and the surrounding area in November.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Paula Aboud, airline pilot Jeff Latas and State Reps. Matt Heinz and Steve Farley are seriously considering entering the race, while on the Republican side state Sen. Frank Antenori is inching closer to moving his exploratory committee into full-fledged campaign mode. None of the candidates would confirm a potential race, indicating that it was too early to make an announcement.

"It is a great deal of sadness here in southern Arizona," said Aboud. "It's hard to move out from the emotional to the political."

Under state law, special election candidates don't have much time to think, with Brewer required to set a primary date within 72 hours of Giffords' resignation next Tuesday for an election that must occur 80 to 90 days later. Candidates for the primary will have 30 days following Brewer's announcement to collect approximately 800 signatures to get on the ballot. The special election will be held 50 to 60 days following the primary.

At least one of the candidates said he would defer to Giffords in making his decision.

"If Gabby asked me to run, I would," Farley said. "I would do anything to carry out her legacy. She means so much to us and I would do anything to help her."

Farley, a third-term state legislator, has already launched a campaign for Aboud's Senate seat, which she is relinquishing at the end of the year.

"Sometimes your plans for the future are changed based on circumstances," Farley said. "My goal has been Senate president. I am pursuing that goal until Gabby calls."

Giffords has not indicated if she will endorse a candidate in the race, but Arizona Democrats have been speculating about her intentions.

Antenori, who unsuccessfully sought the seat in 2006, said he is close to making a final decision regarding whether or not to enter the race. He established an exploratory committee last year for the seat, but noted at the time that he was unlikely to run if Giffords decided to run. Antenori told HuffPost that he believes he can recapture the seat for the GOP.

"Without her there it would be hard for the Dems to keep it," he said.

The current district lines have long favored the Republicans, and Giffords narrowly won re-election in 2010 over Republican Jesse Kelly. The new lines make the district slightly more Democratic, but Republicans maintain an edge.

Heinz, Aboud and Farley are all considered formidable Democratic candidates in light of their legislative service. A state Democratic insider noted that all three have the ability to raise money, and noted that Heinz would be able to tap into the medical community for contributions given his work as a physician. Heinz and Aboud are also both openly gay, which means the race could galvanize the state's LGBT community.

Heinz said he has not made a final decision and noted his first thoughts are with Giffords.

Latas, who lost to Giffords in the 2006 primary, sent out an email to supporters Sunday night, indicating he was considering a race.

Timing of the special primary would also allow Farley and Heinz the ability to run for Congress and then run for the state legislature if unsuccessful in the primary.

Pia Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff, also has been mentioned as a potential candidate, but has not indicated if she plans to make a bid for the seat. Two sources in Arizona confirmed that Carusone has called Tucson Democrats in recent weeks to discuss a potential run. However, in a December interview with USA Today, Carusone dialed back speculation, saying she was focused on working for Giffords.

But Carusone could potentially clear the field. "Pia is well-liked by everyone in the state and in Tucson," a party insider said.