Shaking up the race to succeed Gabrielle Giffords, her former congressional aide Ron Barber announced that he will seek a full term in Congress this year.
Barber, shot twice in the January 2011 assassination attempt on Giffords, had been the only Democrat running for the remaining six months on Giffords' term in a June special election in the 8th Congressional District. Saying he was encouraged by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, to run for a full term, Barber now turns the crowded Democratic field for the full term in the newly drawn 2nd District upside down, with the popular former congresswoman's support. Just a week ago, the New York Times reported that Barber was unlikely to run for a full term.
"I have spoken with Mark and Gabby about it. They are supporting me for C.D. 2," Barber said on a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon. "They encouraged me to run for C.D. 2.”
Barber said Giffords and Kelly are giving him "100-percent support" for the full term. The Democratic field includes state Rep. Matt Heinz, the first candidate to announce, state Sen. Paula Aboud and state Rep. Steve Farley. It was revealed on the call that Farley -- who has previously told The Huffington Post that he would only run with Giffords' backing -- will drop out of the race. Farley had been seeking a state Senate seat and could resume that campaign. Businesswoman Nan Walden has been considering entering the Democratic primary for the full term. All of the candidates dropped plans to enter the special election when Barber entered the race.
Barber said on the conference call that he has spoken with the four candidates on Monday about his decision and does not expect them to clear a path for him for the second time. When asked about Heinz's decision to stay in the August primary, Barber said that while he "respects" Heinz's professional credentials, he believes he has the better background for the district.
"I respect Matt for his service as a physician and in the Legislature," Barber said. "I know this district from top to bottom. I have worked for an with it for the last six years. I worked in this district before that."
"If you want someone who knows this district well, I am your guy," Barber continued. "I don't know what Representative Heinz will present.”
Aboud and Walden have not indicated their plans with Barber in the full-term race. Heinz couldn't immediately be reached.
Barber has run Giffords' Tucson headquarters since her 2006 election and was by her side during the shooting that killed six and injured Giffords, Barber and 11 others.
Barber addressed concerns about his health, saying that his doctors have cleared him to run in both elections. He said his health improved since entering the special election in February. He said part of the reason he is entering the race for a full term is the encouragement he has received from voters and a desire to work on border and veterans issues.
Republicans have a four-way primary in the special election and the full-term race, including state Sen. Frank Antenori, Giffords' 2010 opponent Jesse Kelly, businessman Dave Sitton and retired Air Force office Martha McSally. The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday designated Kelly, Sitton and McSally into a program to assist with campaign fundraising, signaling national interest in the competitive district. The district trends more Democratic after redistricting, but remains a toss-up.
Barber said he is undeterred by the GOP interest. "We'll meet them on the issues," Barber said, noting that Giffords faced strong GOP opposition in previous races.
UPDATE: 6:45 p.m. -- Heinz, reached by phone, confirmed that he will remain in the August primary against Barber for the full term. He said he considers the second district to be a new district following the changes made by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. He said he plans to continue to back Barber in the special election, saying he wanted the seat to remain in Democratic hands.
"All of us expected a robust primary with multiple candidates," Heinz told HuffPost. "In the fall it is a new district."
Heinz responded to Barber's remarks that Barber knew the district better from his work on Giffords' staff, by saying his work as a physician at Tucson Medical Center gives him a familiarity with the district. He said the hospital routinely has patients from around southern Arizona.
"As a physician at the largest hospital in Tucson we take referrals from hospitals all over the district," said Heinz, who practices internal medicine. "This weekend I had three people transferred from Cochise County to Tucson for my care. There are lots of ways to know the district."
Both Heinz and Barber said on Monday that they hope to wage a positive campaign.