Friday, February 11, 2011

Can Giffords Run for Kyl's Seat?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 1:41 PM

The Washington Times suggests that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a "shoo-in" for Jon Kyl's Senate seat if she decides to run:

Any discussion of who's likely to succeed outgoing Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona needs to factor in the following: If Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wants the seat, it's hers.

The three-term Democratic congresswoman explored the idea of running for the Senate seat in the event of Mr. Kyl's retirement before she was shot Jan. 8 at a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson. Her rehabilitation from a gunshot wound to the head reportedly is proceeding faster than expected.

Mr. Kyl announced Thursday that he would not seek a fourth term in 2012. If Ms. Giffords decides she's game for a Senate run and if her health permits, she would be virtually impossible to defeat, said Bruce Merrill, Arizona State University professor emeritus and longtime pollster.

"If one assumes she'd be healthy enough to run, there's nobody who could beat her," said Mr. Merrill. "Now she's got 100 percent name identification and 100 percent sympathy from the public. If she was well enough and she wanted the nomination, I don't think there's any question."

But Nate Silver of the NY Times, in a smart analysis of the Democrats' woes in finding a candidate for the seat, splashes cold water on a Giffords candidacy:

The other Democrat is their congresswoman in the 8th district: Gabrielle Giffords. Had she not been shot in Tucson earlier this year, she would probably be their most formidable candidate — a telegenic moderate who had won her last three elections, under highly varied circumstances, in a district that is quite representative (both politically and demographically) of Arizona as a whole. Ms. Giffords, in fact, had contemplated entering the race had Mr. Kyl retired, according to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

I apologize for the use of the past tense; Ms. Giffords, miraculously, is still with us, and her condition is improving. And some reports, like Mr. Cillizza’s, suggest that she could still conceivably be a candidate in 2012.

I would suggest, however, that there is a difference between our not being able to rule out a run by Ms. Giffords and it being anything more than a remote possibility. Recovery from severe brain injuries, to the extent it is achieved, often requires two to three years. And running for the United States Senate is something that would presumably require relatively full use of one’s mental faculties, even if Ms. Giffords would be graded sympathetically by voters.

Silver also examines the Democrats' bench:

The selection of a candidate, however, might be more of a problem for them. Democrats have fielded somewhat lackluster nominees for statewide office in Arizona in recent years. Their Senate candidate against Mr. Kyl in 2006, for instance, was Jim Pederson, a state party chair and businessman who had never held elected office; he lost by 9 points in a race that might have been winnable given how strong a year Democrats were having otherwise.

Early speculation is likely to center around the former Democratic governor, and now Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. And ordinarily, a former governor would be a very strong candidate. But a recent survey by Public Policy Polling suggests that Ms. Napolitano has lost some of her luster since moving to Washington: 55 percent of Arizonans had an unfavorable view of her, versus 40 percent favorable.

Approval and favorability ratings can vary a lot from survey to survey, so it would be nice to have another data point to look at. But with those sort of numbers, she would have her work cut out for her against the most likely Republican nominee, Representative Jeff Flake. Although Mr. Flake is extremely conservative, he is also fairly polished; in order to win over the center of Arizona’s electorate, the Democrat would likely have to be seen as something other than a typical partisan, which is how Ms. Napolitano would probably be viewed after having served in Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Read the whole thing here.

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