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Giffords’ Meeting with Fellow Survivors in Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – In one of her last acts in office, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords met Monday with other survivors and supporters more than a year after gunfire interrupted a spontaneous meet-and-greet with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store.

As part of a bittersweet day, Giffords finished the meeting she had started on the morning of Jan. 8, 2011, by spending time at her office with others who had been at the scene of the rampage that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords.

She also planned to visit a food bank that was set up after she was shot.

Giffords announced Sunday that she intends to resign from Congress this week to concentrate on recovering from the assassination attempt that shook the country.

Gifford was upbeat in a message sent on Twitter.

“I will return & we will work together for Arizona & this great country,” she wrote.

Among those who met Monday with Giffords was Pat Maisch, who was hailed as a hero for wrestling a gun magazine from the shooter.

“I thanked her for her service, wished her well, and she just looked beautiful,” Maisch said.

Maisch, who was not injured herself, said it was touching that Giffords finished the meeting that had been interrupted by the attack.

“I’ve always said I would love for her to continue to be my congresswoman, but I want her to do what’s best for her,” Maisch said. “She’s got to take care of herself.”

The three-term Democrat’s Facebook and Twitter feeds showed images of her meeting with survivors and others.

In one picture, Giffords held the hand of Suzi Hileman, who brought 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green to meet the congresswoman outside the supermarket. Green was killed in the shooting, and Hileman was shot three times.

In another picture, Giffords, wearing an olive green jacket and bright teal scarf, embraced her former intern, Daniel Hernandez, who helped save her life by trying to stop her bleeding until first responders arrived at the shooting scene.

“I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice,” she said on a video announcing her decision to resign.

The video showed a close-up of Giffords gazing directly at the camera and speaking in a voice that is both firm and halting.

“I have more work to do on my recovery,” the congresswoman said at the end of the two-minute-long “A Message from Gabby,” appearing to strain to communicate. “So to do what’s best for Arizona, I will step down this week.”

Giffords was shot in the head as she was meeting with constituents. Her progress had seemed remarkable, to the point that she was able to walk into the House chamber last August to cast a vote.

Giffords’ resignation set up a free-for-all in a competitive district.

She could have stayed in office for another year even without seeking re-election, but her decision to resign scrambles the political landscape. Arizona must hold a special primary and general election to find someone to finish out her term, as well as hold the regular primary and general election later this year.

Giffords would have been heavily favored to win re-election, since she gained immense public support as she recovered from the shooting. She was elected to her third term just two months before she was shot, winning by only about 1 percent over a tea party Republican.

Several Republicans and Democrats have been mentioned as possible candidates for her seat, with some in the GOP already forming official exploratory committees. Republicans who have expressed interest include state Sen. Frank Antenori and sports broadcaster Dave Sitton, among others.

Democratic state lawmakers have been mentioned as possible candidates, as has the name of Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, although he has publically quashed such speculation.

“That’s the great ‘mentioner’ out there, and there are going to be a lot of people mentioned,” said Arizona Democratic Party chairman Andrei Cherny. “I think the best rule in situations like this is, ‘The folks who are talking don’t know, and the folks who know aren’t talking.'”

Gov. Jan Brewer will likely call the special primary election for the 8th Congressional District in April, followed by a general election in June. Before the cycle begins for the regular election, the district will be remapped and renumbered as the 2nd Congressional District.

The regular primary for the new district, which will cover most of the current district’s territory, was scheduled for August.

The Republican governor acknowledged that the twin election cycles were going to create a mess, especially for potential candidates.

“I think that it’s putting a lot of pressure on a lot of people awfully quick, given the fact that they’re going to be filling that continuing seat that expires this year, and then we have elections coming (along) new congressional lines,” Brewer said.

Giffords planned to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday in Washington. And her political career may not be over, said a state Democratic party official who was among a group that met with her Sunday.

Jim Woodbrey, a senior vice chairman of the state party, said at the meeting, Giffords strongly implied she would run again for office someday. He said the decision to resign came after much thought.

“It was Gabby’s individual decision, and she was not in any condition to make that decision five months ago,” he said. “So I think waiting so that she could make an informed decision on her own was the right thing to do.” ___

AMANDA LEE MYERS; Associated Press Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and David Espo in Washington contributed to this story.

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