Before the horrific shooting last year that left her struggling to stay alive, U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords shocked politicos as one of the only Democrats to keep a Republican-leaning seat in the wake of the 2010 Tea Party wave. While her colleagues lost seats in droves and her party lost control of the House, Giffords kept her seat by a point and a half. According to Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia, it was a victory that could be won by only a "a superstar candidate like Gabby Giffords."
But in November, as a new set of candidates vie for the seat, the seat will no longer be "Republican leaning." Thanks to redistricting, Giffords's district will soon be almost evenly divided between registered Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
According to Heredia, Republicans currently have a slight edge over Democrats, albeit by a matter of a couple of percentage points. The new maps, however, leave the district as a statistical toss-up. "The new lines itself are extremely competitive," Heredia says, noting that the district will still be a tough battle for either side to win.
However, because Giffords's resignation triggered a special election likely to be held this June, candidates will first have to run under the old district lines for District 8. Then candidates will run again in November, in the newly renumbered District 2, with a new partisan makeup. Given the preceding primaries, that will mean four different races for would-be candidates.
Speculation continues to run rampant about just who might throw their hat into the race, but so far only two candidates have actually announced: Republican state Senator Frank Antenori and Democratic state Representative Matt Heinz. Jason Kelly, who lost to Giffords in 2010, is expected to announce this week.