PHOENIX Ron Barber, a former aide to Gabrielle Giffords who was wounded along with her in a deadly shooting last year, said on Thursday he would run in a special election to fill her seat representing southern Arizona in the House of Representatives.
Giffords, a Democrat, resigned last month to focus on her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head suffered when a man opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol on a crowd in Tucson in January 2011, killing six people and wounding 13.
Barber, 66, was shot in the face and thigh at the Congress-on-Your-Corner event outside a supermarket.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has set the special election primary for April 17 and the general election for June 12. The winner will serve out Giffords' term, which ends December 31.
"While there will never be anyone who can fill Congresswoman Giffords' shoes, I look forward to continuing her legacy of putting problem-solving before politics," said Barber, who had served as Giffords' district director and who has her support for his congressional run.
He is unopposed for the Democratic nomination since another candidate who had intended to run dropped out on Thursday to concentrate on seeking the full two-year term in November.
"My commitment is to work across the aisle, find common ground and restore civility to our politics," Barber said, evoking Giffords' reputation as a moderate Democrat who often worked with Republicans.
Five Republicans have announced they will run in the special election including Martha McSally, the first woman to fly combat missions for the Air Force, who entered the race on Thursday with a campaign event in Tucson.
After the special election, another election will follow in November for a new congressional district that includes most of what is now Giffords' district.
Barber's spokesman said the announcement did not necessarily mean he would run for a two-year term in November.
"He hasn't made an announcement on the regular election," campaign spokesman Rodd McLeod said.
BACKING FROM GIFFORDS
Giffords' husband, U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly who in May commanded one of the final space shuttle missions, said on his Facebook page he and his wife supported Barber. He called for donations to help the campaign.
Giffords has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation in Texas following the shooting, which left her with broken speech and a marked limp.
Barber, who worked for Giffords since 2007, previously ran the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, where he built a program to help people with disabilities get jobs, his statement said.
He was born in the United Kingdom and moved to Tucson in 1959. He is a U.S. citizen.
Besides McSally, other Republican contenders include State Senator Frank Antenori, a project manager for defense contractor Raytheon Missile Systems, and construction project manager Jesse Kelly, who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010.
Also running are Defense Department interrogation trainer John Lervold and marketing executive and University of Arizona broadcaster Dave Sitton.
On the Democratic side, state Representative Matt Heinz said he would bow out of the special election as promised now that Barber has announced. Heinz, a physician, said he would concentrate his efforts on the November regular election.
"Ron Barber's announcement helps all the Democrats in the field for the fall election," Heinz said. "It gives us, including me, a little breathing room to get ready for the primary."
College dropout Jared Loughner, 23, was charged with attempting to assassinate Giffords and a host of other crimes. He pleaded not guilty, and a federal judge ruled he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.
(Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by Brad Poole in Tucson; Editing by Daniel Trotta)