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Sources: Ron Barber looking at rematch with Martha McSally

Just months after losing his congressional seat by just 167 votes, Ron Barber is looking ahead to the next election, eyeing a rematch with freshman Republican Martha McSally, political insiders said Friday. Barber won't tip his hand until Sunday morning, when he'll "announce his plans for 2016," his campaign said.

Barber, who won election to the U.S. House in a June 2012 special election to fill the seat vacated by Gabrielle Giffords, was re-elected that fall to a full term. He sent GOP candidate Jesse Kelly packing in the special, and narrowly defeated McSally in the November 2012 race.

The 2014 rematch was even closer, with a month-long recount before McSally was declared the winner by state officials.

Barber is looking at another try, sources said, but the candidate's camp won't confirm that he'll run again, and many Democratic Party sources said they didn't know for sure.

He's set to announce his intentions on Jim Nintzel's Zona Politics show, which airs Sunday mornings but the show is taped earlier. Nintzel's keeping mum for the moment.

While Barber's not tipping his hand, a press release touting the announcement was sent Friday afternoon from a campaign email account by his former congressional spokesman, Mark Kimble. Barber is scheduled to give a speech at the annual meeting of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona on Saturday morning at Arizona State University.

McSally's camp didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but Barber's path to the general election ballot isn't without obstacles.

State Rep. Bruce Wheeler has already formed an exploratory committee, and said Friday that he's staying in the race regardless of Barber's intention to run.

"I have nothing but respect for Ron, but I think it's time to move on," Wheeler said. The former Tucson city councilman said he'll stick out his race. "I do not anticipate getting out."

Another potential candidate whose name has long been floated as a congressional contender said he won't seek the seat.

State Sen. Steve Farley said Friday that Congress is "a horrible mess that I don't want to be a part of ... reading from someone else's script nationally."

"Ultimately, I think I'm more interested in the local and state issues," Farley said.

Another possible Democratic candidate, Matt Heinz, lost to Barber in the August 2012 primary, after dropping out of the spring primary to clear the way for Barber's win in the special election.

The former state legislator, who has returned to his medical practice after a stint in Washington, D.C., working on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, wouldn't give a firm answer Friday on whether he would, as rumored, take another swing at running for Congress.

"Honestly, Ron should have the right of first refusal," Heinz said via text message. "Perhaps we should see if (the U.S. Supreme Court) has anything to say" about Arizona's redistricting process.

"None of this speculation (about candidates) means anything if we don't know the playing field," Heinz said.

According to several sources at the Legislature, state House Speaker David Gowan is pushing a plan that would redraw the Southeastern Arizona district to make it more Republican — giving the Sierra Vista conservative a shot at Congress himself.

Barber, himself a survivor of the Jan. 8, 2011, attack that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords. The former congresswoman's injuries forced her to resign a year later, and her district director entered the race to fill her seat.

In 2016, Barber would be the likely frontrunner on the Democratic side, but other candidates may also toss their hats into the ring.

The names of state Sen. David Bradley and state Rep. Victoria Steele have been floated as possibilities— as has Nan Walden, who's often rumored as a candidate but who hasn't ever run, despite her Washington experience.

Sources said that both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Emily's List had canvassed the field for potential female Democratic candidates, but weren't prepared to throw their backing behind anyone.

Regardless of who their candidate is, Democratic operatives have said the party will run hard against McSally.

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Will Seberger/pool/Zuma

Ron Barber giving a victory speech in June 2012.