Personality, pugnacity have made Giffords a rising Democratic star

Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head Saturday morning while hosting an event outside a grocery store. Six people died, and 14 were injured.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 10, 2011; 10:32 PM

By 11:32 a.m. Friday, the House began its final roll-call vote of a tumultuous first week of the 112th Congress. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her usual break for the airport and, a touch more than 61/2 hours later, landed in Tucson.

"Home sweet home. Thank you America Airlines for another uneventful trip," she tweeted at 6:05 p.m.

It had been a typical week for the Arizona Democrat - 4,000 miles traveled, an op-ed published, a national TV interview, several media interviews in her home state, 11 votes cast in the House, and an assortment of other legislative duties, including reading the First Amendment of the Constitution during a symbolic presentation on the chamber floor.

She did it all in a style that had come to define her approach as she began her third term in Congress: head down, not flashy, even-keeled but not a pushover, willing to fight for her causes.

"She's very easygoing, very even-tempered," said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), who has worked with Giffords to place more National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border. Poe said that beneath the pleasant demeanor is an aggressive lawmaker who knows how to get things done. "She's feisty," he said. "She's a very determined woman."

That combination of personality and pugnacity, as well as her abilities to win in a tough district and to raise a lot of money, have made Giffords a rising star in her party. She has been mentioned regularly to run for higher office, possibly taking on one of Arizona's senators, John McCain or Jon Kyl, both Republicans.

In her time in Washington, Giffords has focused on national security issues, particularly the fight against terrorism, but also what she calls "four other stealth threats to our national security." Those include securing the Mexican border from drug smuggling and illegal immigration, finding alternative energy sources, improving funding for higher education in science and technology, and reducing the $14 trillion federal debt.

She has also been concerned about the nation's political discourse. In a congratulatory e-mail she sent last week to Trey Grayson, a former Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky who was named director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, Giffords expressed concern about the polarizing nature of politics.

"After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation," the congresswoman told Grayson, who released a copy of the e-mail to CNN.

"I am one of only 12 Democrats left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down," she wrote.

Giffords and Grayson became friends during the mid-2000s, through the Aspen Institute's Rodel Fellowship program. Still a state senator, Giffords also got to know Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who became one of her closest friends on Capitol Hill.

Wasserman Schultz became a mentor to Giffords when she decided to run for Congress. Wasserman Schultz was helping to recruit candidates and Giffords was just the kind of person they were looking for: young, dynamic and middle of the road.

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