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Updated Feb 9, 2012, 5:05 pm
Ron Barber, the former district director for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said Thursday morning that he will run to fill the seat vacated by the congresswoman, who resigned last month.
Giffords is backing his run, he told reporters in a morning conference call.
"The congresswoman looked directly at me and asked, 'Ron, will you run?'," he said.
Barber said he hasn't made a decision yet on running in the fall regular election, and doesn't know if Giffords will transfer any of her million-dollar campaign war chest to him, he said in an afternoon interview (see video).
"Our community needs someone who will put politics aside and solve problems for the people of Southern Arizona," Barber said in a statement released just after 10 a.m.
"My commitment is to be honest with the people of this district and help restore civility to our public life. My first priority won’t be the next election – but the next generation. That means balancing the budget the right way by protecting Social Security and Medicare, creating jobs, and securing our border," he said.
The press release did not mention a widely-rumored endorsement of Barber by Giffords, who stepped down to focus on her recovery from the Jan. 8 attack. But a Facebook post by her husband, Mark Kelly, expressed support for Barber's run: "Gabby and I are honored to support Ron Barber for Congress."
Giffords and Kelly sent out an fundraising email endorsing Barber on Thursday afternoon.
Campaign aide Rodd McLeod said Barber had raised over $50,000 by the middle of the afternoon.
"While there will never be anyone who can fill Congresswoman Giffords’ shoes, I look forward to continuing her legacy of putting problem-solving before politics," Barber said in the release.
"I haven't made that decision yet," Barber said during a morning conference call, discussing running again in the newly drawn CD2 in the fall election. "I'm not trying to be cute."
"I'm not ruling anything out," he said later in the day.
The only other declared candidate on the Democratic side, state Rep. Matt Heinz, has said he would drop out of the special election if Barber entered as a caretaker candidate. Heinz said he would then focus his efforts on the CD2.
"If he has the backing of Mark (Kelly) and Gabby, and it's an interim step," Heinz will skip the special election, he said Thursday morning before he had a chance to see Barber's announcement. Stepping back in favor of Barber in CD8 "is my inclination and intention at this time," he said.
But Heinz is still committed to running in the fall.
"We're firing on all cylinders; we're running at this," he said Thursday afternoon. "I have no plans to back away from running in CD2."
State Rep. Steve Farley, who had been considering a run in the special election, said Thursday afternoon that he would throw his support behind Barber. Farley said he would file to run in the fall CD2 election, but would withdraw and back Barber if he chooses to run again.
Candidates for the fall election must file paperwork before the June special election is held.
Barber has been mulling a run since Giffords resigned two weeks ago, and held meetings with advisors over the weekend, sources said.
Rumors and tidbits of information about who might be in or out of the election have swirled since Giffords announced her resignation last month. While few people have been willing to speak on the record, the question of candidacy has had every Democrat talking nonstop.
According to multiple sources, people close to Giffords approached Lisa Lovallo, a Cox Communications executive, about running as a Democrat in the race. The prospect of Lovallo—a Republican who has supported Mitt Romney's presidential campaign—getting Giffords' endorsement raised ire among many local Democrats, along with President Obama's campaign.
Lovallo is likely to skip the special election, but may file as a Democrat in the fall election in CD2, multiple sources said before Barber made his announcement.
Another potential candidate, Nan Stockholm Walden, a Southern Arizona pecan grower with political experience in Washington, D.C., is now unlikely to enter the race. Differences on where to locate Border Patrol checkpoints nixed any chance of Walden receiving Giffords' endorsement, sources said.
Barber was wounded twice in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords. The congresswoman, who was shot in the head in what authorities charge was an assassination attempt, stepped down in January to focus on her recovery.
Barber, who was shot once in the cheek and once in the leg, now wears a leg brace and uses a cane. He has received treatment for PTSD after the attack, he has said.
"My health is great," he said Thursday. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think I had the wherewithal to do it."
"I have more energy than I have had in the past year," he said, running down a list of recent activities.
The 66-year-old ran the Southern Arizona office of the Division of Developmental Disabilities of the state Department of Economic Security before campaigning for Giffords, and then taking a job as her district director.
After Jan. 8, Barber and his family founded the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, focused on mental health, school bullying and supporting the survivors of the shooting.
Will Seberger contributed to this report.