With the backing of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Ron Barber, a longtime aide to the congresswoman, entered the special election to succeed her on Thursday.
Barber, who headed Giffords' district office, has announced his candidacy for the Tucson-area congressional seat she vacated last month, saying that he wanted to carry on Giffords' work and continue solving constituents' problems and border security issues. Barber was wounded in the January 2011 shooting that also wounded Giffords and 11 others and killed six.
"The congresswoman looked at me directly and said, 'Ron, will you run,'" Barber said in a Thursday conference call with reporters, where he said Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, would be supporting his efforts.
As Barber announced his entrance into the race for the seat representing Arizona's 8th district, another Democratic candidate for the seat, State Rep. Matt Heinz, said he would run in the newly drawn 2nd district -- which encompasses much of what had been the 8th district before redistricting occurred -- instead. Heinz's announcement clears the field for Barber, who will no longer face a primary opponent on April 17 and can concentrate solely on the general election, scheduled for June 12.
"I will be standing by my word and shifting my focus to the fall election and August primary [for the 2nd district]," Heinz told HuffPost on Thursday afternoon.
While Barber has only announced plans to run in the special election, he did open the door to seeking a full term in the new district come November. He noted that his current focus is on organizing his campaign for the special election and said he has not made a final decision beyond that.
Barber noted that if he does decide to run in the fall election, he would give other Democrats considering the full term plenty of notice. In addition to Heinz, state Rep. Steve Farley, state Sen. Paula Aboud and businesswoman Nan Walden are all considering entering the race.
"It is hard for me to think two elections down the road," said Barber, who was questioned several times about his longterm plans. "I am not trying to be cute or coy about it."
Farley, who has previously said that he would not run unless he was endorsed by Giffords, indicated that he will be helping Barber in the special election and that he is still considering entering the November race for the full term. He said he expected to make a final decision in the next week or two. Aboud said that she is pleased that Barber's health will allow him to run for the interim term and that she will be making an announcement about her own plans next week.
Barber said he plans on discussing with Giffords the potential transfer of her campaign war chest, which contains more than $1 million, to his campaign. He said there were legal issues to consider before transferring the funds.
Barber indicated that he wanted to work on border security issues, help veterans find jobs, reduce the budget deficit, protect Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, and work on military issues.
He will face the winner of the Republican primary between state Sen. Frank Antenori, businessman David Sitton, and Jesse Kelly, Giffords' 2010 Republican opponent, in the June general election.
John Ellinwood, a spokesman for Kelly, said that he welcomed Barber's entrance into the race and plans to focus on economic and jobs issues during the course of the campaign. Antenori and Sitton did not return requests for comment.
Barber, who was shot twice during the attack, said that his health has improved and he has regained mobility in his legs. He noted that while he has worked half days in Giffords' district office over the past year, he has begun putting in more hours outside of the office, working on a variety of projects.
Barber said that a final decision hasn't been made on the role that Giffords and Kelly would play in his campaign.
"She and Mark said they would do everything they can to help me," he said.
Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, emailed a letter to supporters Thursday indicating the couple's support for Barber. In the email, Kelly said that he and Giffords have set a goal of helping Barber get 1,000 donors before Monday to help his campaign effort.