After she voted for President Obama’s health-care-reform bill last year, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords became seriously concerned about the barrage of death threats against her. Her 8th Congressional District in Arizona, which shares a 114-mile border with Mexico, is “one of the most emotionally and politically polarized in the nation,” said Adam Nagourney in The New York Times, with illegal immigration, budget deficits, and health-care reform as hot-button issues. In March, after she voted for the Democrats’ health-care bill, the door to her Tucson headquarters was smashed. “She was very seriously concerned about it,” said Thomas Warne, a friend and fund-raiser. Giffords’ staff began notifying police whenever she planned to appear in public. Then came a “brutal” re-election campaign in which she was targeted by the Tea Party, and her Republican opponent ran newspaper ads inviting voters to shoot an M16 with him.
Giffords, 40, is known to friends and constituents as a stand-up politician with a sunny personality and an impressive biography, said Catherine Reagor in The Arizona Republic. Before becoming Arizona’s first Jewish congresswoman, Giffords studied at Scripps College and Cornell, won a Fulbright Scholarship to Mexico, and became the state’s youngest state senator at age 32. A third-generation Arizonan, she’s a proud supporter of the right to bear arms and owns her own Glock. She’s frequently seen around town riding her motorcycle without a helmet. Her “combination of personality and pugnacity” has made Giffords “a rising star” in the Democratic Party, said Paul Kane in The Washington Post. In 2007, she married Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut. The two first met in China as part of a U.S. trade mission, and their relationship has been filled with travel ever since. Kelly is based in Houston, while Giffords shuttles between Tucson and Washington.
Although a bullet tore through Giffords’ brain, doctors are optimistic about her prospects for recovery. To ease pressure, surgeons removed nearly half of her skull, but she can now breathe on her own and has squeezed her husband’s hand and given a “thumbs-up’’ sign. “If you get shot in the head, you should be dead,” said Dr. Peter Rhee of the University Medical Center in Tucson. “She is thinking. She is following commands. This is remarkable.”