Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in Saturday's shooting rampage, had begun her third term this week after squeaking out a victory over Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly in Arizona's 8th Congressional District. A moderate, Giffords election was made tougher by her support of major initiatives of the Obama Administration, including health care reform, the $1 billion stimulus and the financial regulatory reform bill. Such support cost the jobs of dozens of her fellow moderates.
She was the youngest women elected to Congress when she arrived in 2006, one of a large group of Democratic freshman known as the “majority makers,” for helping her party take control of the House from Republicans for the first time in a dozen years.
But Giffords, now 40, wasn't a strict party loyalist. She won her congressional seat after the retirement of Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican. The 8th District has voted for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 and Giffords over the years has voted less and less frequently with her caucus, instead siding with Republicans on some major issues and becoming a member of the fiscally conservative House Blue Dog Coalition.
Two days before she was shot, Giffords introduced a bill to slash the pay of all members of Congress by 5 percent, echoing the sentiment of voters who are dissatisfied with Congress and believe the federal government spends too much money.
A day earlier, she was one of 20 members who refused to back Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for Minority Leader. Giffords voted instead for Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a liberal and a civil rights icon.
Giffords is married to NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who has flown three shuttle flights. He is scheduled to go up on the final mission of the Endeavor shuttle on April 1. Kelly is also an active-duty Navy pilot, and has a brother, Scott, who is also an astronaut and is now aboard the International Space Station. Giffords and Kelly married in 2007 after meeting three years earlier at the National Committee on U.S. -China Relations. Mark has two daughters from a previous marriage.
As a lawmaker, she has been particularly vocal on border security issues, as 114 miles of her District sits on the edge of Mexico. She made frequent pleas for more help guarding the board in her district and took credit when President Obama agreed in May to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to help keep out illegal immigrants as a bloody drug war raged in Mexico.
“The fulfillment of my request is a clear sign that this administration is beginning to take border security seriously,” Giffords said at the time.
Giffords was also a staunch defendant of gun rights and is a gun owner.
But Giffords lost the support of many of the independent voters in her district over her backing of the health care reform law. She is also a strong supporter of abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research.
Giffords' push for stronger border security was accompanied by her advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform that included a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to work in the United States.
When Giffords voted for the health care reform bill in March, the glass door of her district office was shattered. Nine other members reported similar vandalism at the time and even death threats.
Appearing on Fox News, former Rep. John Shadegg, who represented Arizona's 3rd District from 1995-2010, said members were sometimes targeted by threats.
“Lots of us have received death threats,” Shadegg said. “It kind of comes with the territory over the years.”