Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shown Oct. 6, "would win easily" were she to seek a fourth term in Congress, said longtime Arizona pollster Bruce Merrill.


U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had trouble putting together a sentence in her first TV interview since she was shot in the head Jan. 8, but her political options remain wide open.

That's the view of a half-dozen Arizona political experts interviewed after they watched the Monday night ABC program on her recovery.

Their general assessment: Giffords has a long way to go, but the "20/20" program showed her making remarkable improvements in a short time, and the public's well of patience for her is deep.

Margaret Kenski, a Tucson pollster who works mostly for Republicans, noted the interview was "the first good view people have had of her."

"I think that she can be a member of Congress again, given what her therapist said about her not having plateaued," Kenski said.

Giffords' interview with Diane Sawyer took place in mid-October, so improvements may have taken place since then.

It's unclear whether Giffords will be able to run a campaign, but that may not matter, said Bruce Merrill, a longtime Arizona pollster and emeritus professor at ASU.

"If she wants to run for her House seat, it would be silly for any Republican to run against her, because she would win easily," he said.

If not?

"If her husband wanted to run for that seat," he said, "he would win easily."

"Either one of them are a public-relations dream," Merrill said of Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut. "You wouldn't even have to talk about policy. You'd just talk about the strength and courage and loyalty."

Bruce Ash, a Republican National Committee member from Tucson, said he worries that if Giffords runs again, she'd be shortchanging her recovery. He noted that his own recovery from cancer required a "1,000 percent focus."

"It's obvious she's made some really, really significant gains in her recovery," Ash said. But for now, he added, "Everybody knows there's no answer."

The telling of Giffords' story on "20/20" could even extend the public's patience.

Her injury and recovery has been unprecedentedly public, and that may help, said C.J. Karamargin, who was Giffords' spokesman until August.

"She has earned something that political figures work a lifetime to achieve," Karamargin said. "That is the affection and good faith of the country."

Candidates have until May 30 to file the petitions required to run for Congress.

On StarNet: Listen to an audio message from Giffords to her constituents at

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or