By JACQUES BILLEAUD AND KEVIN FREKING, ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' aides have urged former Surgeon General Richard Carmona to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, Carmona said Friday, in the strongest indication that Giffords herself will not seek the seat.
Democrats have been speculating about Giffords' political future since she was shot in the head in January during a constituent event at a Tucson shopping center. She has been undergoing rehabilitation therapy in Houston. Her recent appearance for a key vote in Congress renewed buzz about whether she was well enough to seek re-election or even run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Carmona declined to identify who approached him and whether they were with her congressional or campaign staff.
In describing the talks, Carmona said, "They have suggested that I would be a good candidate and that I should strongly consider it."
Carmona served as surgeon general from 2006 to 2006 under President George W. Bush and is a longtime Giffords friend.
Mark Kimble, a spokesman for Giffords' congressional office, said that the outreach efforts encouraging Carmona to run wouldn't have been made by the congressional office. He referred a reporter to Rodd McLeod, who served as Giffords' campaign manager in 2006 and 2010. McLeod did not respond to a request for comment.
Giffords' staff has consistently said that Giffords doesn't have to decide her political future until next year, and that's a stance Kimble repeated on Friday.
"I have no idea what this means if anything," Kimble said of Carmona's revelation.
While Carmona is considering getting into the race, Don Bivens, a former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, will make his entry into the race official on Monday, a source close to Bivens told The Associated Press. Bivens, 59, is a Phoenix-based lawyer with strong ties to state and local Democrats.
Meanwhile, Carmona describes himself as an independent who has voted for politicians from both sides of the aisle. He hasn't set a deadline for deciding whether he'll mount a campaign, saying he hadn't considered such a move until now.
Democrats appear to have been reluctant to get into the race in the absence of direction from Giffords on whether she'll run or not. She would have been the clear frontrunner for the party's nomination, but the shooting in January left her severely wounded and aides have made clear that she still has much work ahead in her recovery.
The GOP has had a much easier time finding potential candidates to succeed Kyl. The favorite, Rep. Jeff Flake, has strong name recognition and nearly $2 million in the bank for the campaign.