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Tucson's congressional races are the contests to watch this year

The rumors had been swirling for weeks, and that's why I was dismayed that when Gabrielle Giffords announced she was stepping down, her hand-picked successor wasn't standing next to her (and being introduced as such). A big-name local Dem told me, "(That person, whoever it was to be) should have been at Gabby's side, maybe at the Food Bank, handing out food to people. You just can't blow a photo opportunity like that."

And yet they did. Memo to Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers: What the hell, dude?! I'm still upset at Rogers for taking sides in a Democratic primary election. (He sided with Regina Romero over a Democratic challenger in last year's City Council elections.)

That was a monster no-no, and I've never heard a reasonable explanation from anyone as to why he would do that. That blunder was unforgivable; allowing the Republicans to take Giffords' seat would border on criminally negligent.

Having Giffords' longtime assistant Ron Barber enter the race soothed some people's nerves, especially considering a couple of the possibilities that had been bandied about prior to his announcement. There was the woman who would have had to change parties (!) in order to run in the Democratic primary, and another person absolutely awash in the malodorous essence of Rio Nuevo. By comparison, Barber is a veritable People's Choice.

Still, I wonder about the timing of it all. If he was going to run all along, why not announce it at a more-advantageous time? And if he doesn't want to run in November, then when are we going to find out who is?

I don't know Ron Barber; he seems like a decent guy. Nevertheless, what exactly are his qualifications, other than that he worked for Giffords, and God help me, he got shot? I've always voted for her, and I've been shot, too, but nobody asked me to run. I just hope he's tough enough, because the Republicans, who have always considered Giffords to be a squatter, are going to throw the kitchen sink at him.

Barber's entry in the race did clear things up on the Democratic side. Matt Heinz, who had been in the race, dropped out, leaving the Democratic nomination to Barber. On the other side, the Republican primary should be an absolute bloodbath. I can't wait.

State Sen. Frank Antenori, like Alexander the Great before him, looked out and saw that he had no more public employees' lives to ruin, and he wept. While it's never a good idea to bet against somebody who's on a winning streak, sooner or later, Antenori's bull-in-a-china-shop routine is going to wear thin with voters. Not everyone agrees with his vision of minimum-wage teachers working, with no job protection whatsoever, at the whim of brain-dead bureaucrats in schools where there are guns, but no lunch programs.

Jesse Kelly, who was beaten by Giffords in 2010, seems like a lost soul to me. He came this close to beating Giffords at a time in American (and Arizona) history where just about everything was in his favor. But, in politics, show me a close loser, and I'll show you a loser. I imagine that after the race, he probably lamented having gone after Social Security with such venom. He was probably fired up to make another run at Giffords, but when she got shot, he pretty much had no choice but to go into political suspended animation. In this multiperson race, he's got about as much chance as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

I watched in shock and awe as former fighter-pilot Martha McSally announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination. She was like a one-person bus accident. She kept talking about how it was a calling. I kept waiting for her to talk about how the voices were telling her to run, but she was under just enough control not to go that far.

There's a guy named John Lervold from Sierra Vista who's running, but he has one fewer leg than Jesse Kelly in the aforementioned contest.

That leaves Dave Sitton. Dave and I are sorta contemporaries who grew up about 12 miles apart in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. However, Dave grew up in the Beach Boys/Osmond Brothers section of the valley, while I was in the Los Lobos/NWA section.

I've known Dave since our association with UA rugby back in the late-1970s. He's always been a great guy, a good family man, a fellow sports fan, a hard worker and an all-around ace. It just bugs the livin' crap out of me that he's a Republican.

I hear that Sitton has a pipeline of money flowing his way. He has name recognition and none of the negatives of his two closest challengers. He may well just swoop in and grab the GOP nomination and give Barber a real run.

But even if he pulls it off, it's a whole 'nother contest come the fall, with a different district and a two-year seat in the balance.

Even with the Summer Olympics and a new UA football coach, this will be the best game in town for months to come.

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