Po­lit­i­cal bat­tles

Gif­fords was tar­geted by tea party back­ers but nar­rowly won re­elec­tion in Novem­ber.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT SCHUDEL

Gabrielle Gif­fords, a ris­ing star of the Demo­cratic Party in theU.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, was elected to Congress in 2006 and has built a rep­u­ta­tion as a prag­matic mod­er­ate who sup­ported Pres­i­dent Obama’s health-care re­form pack­age in 2010.

She is part of the Blue Dog coali­tion of cen­trist Democrats and, as a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive in her fam­ily’s tire deal­er­ship, was a strong pro­po­nent of small-busi­ness in­ter­ests.

Fac­ing a tough re­elec­tion bat­tle in 2010, Gif­fords, 40, was one of the can­di­dates specif­i­cally tar­geted for de­feat by Sarah Palin and the tea party move­ment. In­March 2010, a glass door at her Tuc­son of­fice was shat­tered by what was be­lieved to be a shot from a pel­let gun or air pis­tol.

Her 2010 Repub­li­can op­po­nent, 29-year-old for­mer Ma­rine Sgt. Jesse Kelly, held cam­paign events un­der the slo­gan “Help re­move Gabrielle Gif­fords from of­fice” and in­vited his sup­port­ers to “shoot a fully au­to­matic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Gif­fords won the elec­tion by two per­cent­age points.

She of­ten touted her sup­port of the Sec­ond Amend­ment to vot­ers and said she had been a long­time gun owner. In 2007, she mar­ried Mark Kelly, a Navy fighter pi­lot and as­tro­naut who has been on three space shut­tle mis­sions. Gif­fords is the only mem­ber of Congress with a spouse on ac­tive duty with the mil­i­tary.

Gif­fords, a third-gen­er­a­tion Ari­zo­nan, was born June 8, 1970, in Tuc­son. Early in life, she was in­spired by Ari­zona-born for­mer Supreme Court jus­tice San­dra Day O’Con­nor and reg­is­tered as a Repub­li­can when she turned 18.

She grad­u­ated from Scripps Col­lege in Clare­mont, Calif., in 1993 with a de­gree in Latin Amer­i­can his­tory and so­ci­ol­ogy and stud­ied in Mex­ico for a year on a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship. She speaks Span­ish and owns a house in­Mex­ico.

In 1996, Gif­fords re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in re­gional plan­ning from Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity. She worked for Price Water­house in New York for a short time be­fore re­turn­ing to Tuc­son in 1996 to take over her fam­ily’s tire deal­er­ship.

She re­vived the busi­ness be­fore sell­ing it in 2000 and then founded a prop­erty man­age­ment busi­ness. In 1999, dis­mayed by the con­ser­va­tive so­cial po­si­tions of the Repub­li­can Party, she changed her af­fil­i­a­tion to the Demo­cratic Party. A year later, she was elected to the Ari­zona House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

In 2002, when she was 32, she be­came the youngest woman elected to the state Se­nate in Ari­zona. She sup­ported technology and mental health is­sues as a state leg­is­la­tor and was named woman of the year by a Tuc­son busi­ness mag­a­zine in 2005.

When 11-term Repub­li­can Rep. Jim Kolbe an­nounced that he would not seek re­elec­tion in Ari­zona’s 8th Con­gres­sional District in 2006, Gif­fords mounted a strong pri­mary cam­paign and won the gen­eral elec­tion with 54 per­cent of the vote. She was the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Ari­zona.

Gif­fords’s grand­fa­ther Ak­iba Horn­stein, the son of a Lithua­nian rabbi, moved to Ari­zona from New York in the 1940s and founded El Campo Tire. His child­hood nick­name was Gif­ford, and he legally changed his name to “Gif Gif­fords” to avoid anti-Semitism.

Gif­fords’s mother is not Jewish, but the con­gress­woman has al­ways iden­ti­fied her­self as Jewish and is a mem­ber of a Re­form syn­a­gogue in Tuc­son. One of her grand­moth­ers had the sur­name of Pal­trowitz, later short­ened to Pal­trow. The con­gress­woman is a sec­ond cousin of ac­tress Gwyneth Pal­trow.

This week, Gif­fords was one of the Democrats to vote against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as Demo­cratic mi­nor­ity leader.

Af­ter win­ning re­elec­tion in 2008, Gif­fords be­came a strong ad­vo­cate of im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Her district, with 114 miles of in­ter­na­tional border, is one of 10 con­gres­sional dis­tricts along the U.S.-Mex­ico line.

Af­ter an Ari­zona rancher was killed in March 2010, Gif­fords called on Obama to send Na­tional Guard troops to pa­trol the border.

In ad­di­tion to health care and mil­i­tary mat­ters, Gif­fords be­came a strong pro­po­nent of so­lar en­ergy and at­tended the in­ter­na­tional cli­mate con­fer­ence in Copen­hagen in De­cem­ber 2009. She of­ten points out that Ari­zona has 300 days of sun­shine a year.

“We have the land, the technology, the con­cen­trated sun­shine,” she has said. “I want to see south Ari­zona be the ‘So­lar­con Val­ley’ of theUnited States.”

Gif­fords has long been an avid mo­tor­cy­clist and is a mem­ber of the Con­gres­sional Mo­tor­cy­cle Cau­cus.

schudelm@wash­post.com

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