May 20, 2021

Daniel Hernandez enters growing Democratic field for Tucson-area congressional seat

Originally published in Arizona Republic.

State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, who helped save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords moments after she was shot a decade ago, is running for Congress in the Tucson area she once represented.

Hernandez is making official his bid to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., on Thursday, becoming the third member of the Arizona Legislature to enter the Democratic field.

Hernandez, 31, joins state Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, a trauma surgeon who helped treat Giffords’ head injuries, and state Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, who teaches environmental law, in a race for Arizona’s only current congressional vacancy.

Hernandez emphasized the need for improved access to health care as the central issue in the race. He said he helped secure $3 million for Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital in Green Valley during the pandemic last year in what he pointed to as a sign of his ability to work productively with Republicans in a “very difficult Legislature.” 

“Whether it was working with some of the most conservative members to expand protections for sexual-assault survivors, to getting money to school counselors and social workers, I’m somebody who’s actually able to put everything aside to work with whoever it takes to get results,” he said.

Hernandez’s entry seeks to continue a rapid political rise that traces to the Jan. 8, 2011, massacre near Tucson that killed six and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.

Hernandez, who was an intern for Giffords, memorably held her head in his hands to help contain her bleeding when she was shot outside a grocery store where she was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event.

Like Friese, the shooting thrust Hernandez into a national spotlight and led both to become more politically engaged.

“I’ve always had this desire to help others,” Hernandez said in an interview with The Arizona Republic. “As I’ve grown older and gotten more involved in advocacy, it was actually Gabby that taught me this idea of being a voice for those who couldn’t speak up for themselves.” 

While Giffords, and her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., cast long shadows over the Democratic field, the couple has not yet endorsed anyone running in 2022, and it is unclear whether they will do so before next year’s Democratic primary.

In 2018, Kirkpatrick first won her current seat, in part with the endorsement of Giffords, which helped her stand apart in a crowded Democratic field.  

Kirkpatrick’s 2nd Congressional District includes part of Tucson and Cochise County on the U.S.-Mexico border.

All nine of the state’s congressional districts will be redrawn later this year by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, making it unclear at the moment what the exact area of the state’s southeastern congressional district will include.