GREEN VALLEY - Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori became the first person to officially announce his candidacy for the Congressional seat vacated by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Speaking Friday morning at the Republican Club in Green Valley, Antenori said he is running for both the special election and the general election. Highlighting his record during his three years in the state legislature, Antenori said he's the ideal candidate to fill the vacancy.

"In this special election, you need someone that has the ability to hit the ground running and move fast and assume the role of leadership," Antenori said. "I'm going to run on my record and I'm going to stand by it and I think my record is solid. It's what we need in Washington."

Antenori, the state majority whip, specifically mentioned his work on the budget team last year that achieved a balanced budget. Still on that team, he promised they would pass another balanced budget this year.

His announcement to run was expected - he had already announced a congressional exploratory effort and said he was likely to run if Giffords did not.

He may soon be joined in the race by Republican Jesse Kelly, who registered with the Federal Election Commission earlier this week. Kelly's spokesman, John Ellinwood, said it's highly likely he'll run with an announcement possible as soon as next week. Kelly narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010.

Giffords announcement Sunday that she would resign triggered the special election. She chose to step down to focus on her recovery from being shot in the head in an assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011 in Tucson.

There will be Republican and Democratic primaries sometime in April though the exact date has not been set. The winners will square off in June in the special election.

Many of the voters in what's now Congressional District 8 will see two rounds of primary and general elections this year. The special election will be in the existing district of CD-8, in which Republicans have an advantage in registered voters. The regular election will be in the new district lines of what's now called CD-2, where the gap between Democrats and Republicans is minimal. That means two different campaign-finance reports and potentially two different campaign strategies.

The primary for the new congressional district will occur in August, with the general election in November.

Antenori acknowledged the difficult campaign that lies ahead.

"It's going to be a long haul. This is an unprecedented situation; running for two Congressional seats at the same time," Antenori said. "We will have four elections in less than a year. It is going to be tiring. It's going to be tough. But I am there and I'm going to fight."

During a question and answer with reporters, Antenori spoke about other issues including immigration, but he said there's no doubt that the financial situation of the country will be the biggest issue in the race.

"It's the biggest threat to this country since the Nazis of World War II," Antenori said. "If we don't get this under control, it will bring this country down."

Because Antenori is in the final year of his term, he does not have to resign from the state legislature to run for the congressional post. He said he has committed to staying at least until they complete the budget. "Afterwards I'll make a decision on what I'll be doing," Antenori said.

This will be Antenori's second attempt to win a Congressional seat. He lost in the 2006 Republican primary to Randy Graf, who lost in the general election to Giffords.

Born and raised in Scranton, Pa., Antenori joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1984. He wrote about his experiences during a battle in Iraq in a book published in 2006.

Antenori has a bachelor's degree in health science with a minor in biology from Campbell University in North Carolina. He moved to Tucson in 2004 after he retired from the military. Today, he's a program manager at Raytheon coordinating development of hybrid vehicles for the military.

He's been married to his wife, Lesley, for 17 years, and they have two sons; Frank III, 15; and Brodie, 14, his official bio shows.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or