Times Suggests Toxic Political Stew Contributed to Climate of Violence in AZ

The Times threw in all the potentially combustible ingredients of Arizona politics - guns, border control, health care - and tried to make it add up to a stew of violence, in Tuesday's front-page story from Tucson, the sight of Saturday's shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: "In Giffords's District, a Long History of Tension." The text box: "Area Deeply Divided Over Immigration and Health Care."

The story was reported by Adam Nagourney, Sam Dolnick and Katharine Seelye, and written by Nagourney, who is now California bureau chief. The reporters don't come out and blame the right, but when they discuss divisions in Arizona "over government spending, immigration, health care and Barack Obama," it's easy for readers to conjure up conservative villains.

Representative Gabrielle Giffords was distressed when the glass front door of her district office here was shattered by a kick or a pellet gun last March, an act of vandalism that took place hours after she joined Democrats in passing President Obama's health care bill. "Things have really gotten spun up," she told a television interviewer the next day.

But tensions have long run high in the Eighth Congressional District of Arizona, a classic swing district that shares a 114-mile border with Mexico. Protesters chained themselves to the desks of Ms. Giffords's Republican predecessor, Jim Kolbe, 12 years ago. And over the past year, Ms. Giffords struggled in a brutal re-election campaign during which her opponent appeared in a Web advertisement holding an assault weapon. The district has become a caldron of divisions over government spending, immigration, health care and Barack Obama.

Today, the Eighth District stands apart as one of the most emotionally and politically polarized in the nation.

The rampage on Saturday that left six dead and Ms. Giffords gravely wounded may prove to be an isolated act of violence by a mentally disturbed man. The suspect attended at least one of Ms. Giffords's town meetings before the event Saturday.

Still, the shootings came after a disconcerting run of episodes in this district of mountains and desert, raising temperatures here in a way that some that some of Ms. Giffords's friends argue fed an atmosphere that might encourage violence.

Several of them pointed back to the smashed door of her district headquarters at 1661 North Swan Street last March as a turning point; a time when a cloud of unease settled over Ms. Giffords and her staff.

The Times dwelled on a six-month old campaign ad from Gifford's Republican challenger and tried to spin it into significance.

Last summer, Ms. Giffords found herself challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Republican candidate with Tea Party backing, who assailed Ms. Giffords on health care and immigration. He held a "targeting victory" fund-raiser in which he invited contributors to shoot an M-16 with him. This was playing out against a backdrop of a souring national economy and rising unhappiness with Democrats everywhere.

Mr. Kelly, who won the nomination after defeating a moderate Republican, offered tough-worded attacks on the establishment and Ms. Giffords. "These people who think they are better than us, they look down on us every single day and tell us what kind of health care to buy," he said at a rally in October. "And if you dare to stand up to the government they call us a mob. We're about to show them what a mob looks like."


Ms. Giffords was seeking re-election at a time when Arizona passed a tough law aimed at illegal immigrants, which Ms. Giffords opposed, and as the state faced a threatened boycott from parts of the nation for passing a law that many people saw as intolerant.