Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori announced he has formed an exploratory committee for a run for Congress - but there are two big maybes attached.
Antenori, who was elected to the House in 2008 and ascended to senator in 2010, said that, from a practical standpoint, the first question is what the district boundaries will look like. The state's independent redistricting commission has just released basic grid maps, but there is no indication yet what shapes the state's nine congressional districts will actually take and what the political demographics will look like.
The second and most obvious variable, he said, depends on the future plans of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering after being shot in the head at a constituent event in January.
Antenori, 45, said no one knows whether Giffords will be physically and mentally capable of running for office again and vigorously serving her term.
"I would love for her to walk up to the microphone tomorrow and say, 'I'm back and ready to go - and while I'm going to continue my recovery, I'm doing well enough to represent CD8,'" Antenori said.
"But I'm getting mixed signals about whether that is going to happen and I can't wait to figure out what her decision is going to be."
Antenori, who served 20 years in the military, said he has a good friend who received a shrapnel injury to the head in Afghanistan. It took him three years to recover, he said, but now he's "good as new."
"I think Ms. Giffords will be there too. Modern medicine is still good - Obama hasn't screwed it up yet - so there's no question she'll obtain a high degree of functionality. The question is whether it's this year or two years from now."
If she runs, Antenori said, he probably won't officially jump in the race.
"Let's be blunt. The sympathy factor for the tragedy she suffered and the strength she's demonstrated has been imprinted on the electorate," he said. "You'd have to be an idiot to think otherwise."
The exploratory campaign will allow him to set up a campaign structure and do some polling to gauge the electorate's mood. He'll have a better sense as to whether he can get the volunteer and donor base he needs to pull off a run.
Antenori said he wants to go to Congress to work on cutting spending, saying he's proud of the work the state has done to address its budget problems.
"I don't want to leave a crappy country to my kids," said Antenori, who has two teenage boys and said he's concerned that their generation won't have it as good as the current generation.
Antenori concedes his message is going to sound a lot like Jesse Kelly, the Republican who came closer than anyone to reclaiming the seat for the GOP, collecting 134,000 votes to Giffords' 138,000 votes last November. Kelly has been quiet, but has kept his campaign current, continuing to spend some money on consulting and storage.
Both men served in Iraq, both are conservatives, both talk about cutting spending.
"We're probably 90 percent aligned on policy issues," Antenori said. "The big difference is I have a record of getting it done. With me, they know what they're getting."
Kelly could not be reached for comment but state Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson predicted Antenori will have a hard time cultivating strong support, especially given what she called his "overheated rhetoric."
"This is a district that over and over again has chosen sensible leadership over hyper-partisanship."
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at email@example.com or 573-4243.