Who Is Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?

Political centrist likes motorcycles and is married to an astronaut.

ByABC News
January 8, 2011, 7:26 PM

Jan. 8, 2011 -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides motorcycles and married an astronaut at a wedding where everything had to be biodegradable. She is a Democrat who champions gun rights, lists fiscal discipline as one of her top issues and was re-elected in a conservative district when Republicans took control of the House.

News that she was shot in the head while meeting with constituents at a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store brought outpourings of support from both sides of the aisle.

"I am just heartbroken. Gabby is more than just a colleague -- she's also a friend," said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican.

Giffords, 40, is a political centrist who voted with her party less than half the time and opposed Nancy Pelosi as the party leader in the House after Democrats lost the majority in November.

"The federal debt is the single biggest threat to our economy and national security today," is emblazoned on her Congressional website. She wears the label centrist proudly.

But she supported Nancy Pelosi and President Obama on their most important policy initiatives, like the health reform law and the climate change bill that passed the House of Representatives in 2009, but failed in the Senate.

Her independent streak is more on display where immigration policy is concerned.

Her Congressional district is conservative -- it went for Republican Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, 52 percent to 46 percent.

Giffords won handily that year and in 2006, when she was first elected. But in November she only won election to her third term. She garnered less than 50 percent of the vote and was targeted by Republicans and Tea Party activists as a vulnerable Democrat.

Her office was vandalized in 2010 after she voted in favor of Democrats' health reform law.

Sarah Palin singled out Giffords as one of 20 Democrats she most wanted to defeat.

Giffords has spent plenty of time out of Tucson. She went to college in at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., and got a masters degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Now she spends time in Washington as a congresswoman, while her husband, space shuttle Capt. Mark Kelly, lives in Houston.

But she spends most weekends and time off in Arizona, where her grandfather started a tire business in 1949. She ran El Camp Tire and Auto Service before entering politics.

Her Republican challenger in 2008 was a grade school classmate.

Before entering politics she ran the family tire business, which was founded by her grandfather in 1949.

Perhaps growing up in an auto-focused family led to her love of motorcycles. She is a co-chair of the Congressional Motorcycle Caucus with Republican Walt Jones of North Carolina.

Giffords taped a video message encouraging people to ride their motorcycles to work in June 2009. She said she likes to ride motorcycles, but also likes that they leave a smaller carbon footprint than cars.

Her marriage in 2007 to Kelly has garnered some media attention in the past. She was featured in a lengthy CNN profile in 2008, when Kelly was orbiting the earth in the space shuttle.

She selected Arizona mariachi music to wake him up in the morning and received email messages from space as she walked to the Capitol building.Watch that HERE.

The two met on a cultural exchange trip to China, when Giffords was an Arizona state senator. Their first date did not come until a year later and the venue was not typical -- an Arizona State Prison; she was working on legislation dealing with capital punishment.

Their wedding was held "in the evening under ancient mesquites at an organic produce farm," according to a profile in the New York Times.

Giffords insisted at her wedding that "anything that wasn't biodegradable had to be reusable," and so she wore a used wedding gown.