TUCSON, Ariz. (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot point blank in the head while meeting with constituents Saturday, was expected to be a leading voice on immigration in the new Congress.
Sworn in to a third term in Congress just this week, Giffords, 40, was one of the few Democrats in swing districts to survive a Republican sweep in the November elections, narrowly defeating a conservative Republican opponent.
She represents a district in southeast Arizona stretching from Tucson to the Mexican border that is at the center of the debate on U.S. immigration.
A relative novice in Washington, Giffords is already regarded as a rising young star in the national Democratic Party and a possible candidate for the higher office in her home state.
The U.S. political website Real Clear Politics named her one of its "Top Ten Rising Power Players in the U.S. Congress" after the 2010 elections because of her influence on immigration issues.
"She is certain to be a major player ... when Congress again begins to consider its options on the issue," Real Clear Politics said.
Giffords compiled a moderate voting record in the U.S. House of Representatives, supporting most of President Barack Obama's initiatives, including his signature health care reform.
She is a member of the so-called "Blue Dog" coalition of Democrats who push for conservative budget and tax policies and served on the House's Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Science and Technology committees.
Giffords differed with many Democrats on issues such as gun control. A long-time gun owner, Giffords supported the Second Amendment to the Constitution on the right of Americans to bear arms, according to her official biography.
She has described the U.S. immigration system as "broken" and advocated a comprehensive reform compromise combining tough border security with a long-term path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Giffords criticized Arizona's tough anti-immigration law passed last year, saying it would do nothing to secure the border or stop drug smuggling and gun running spilling over into her district.
"Arizona is now known around the world for enacting an extreme immigration law in response to the federal government's failure to act," she said in a statement after its passage.
Giffords is married to a NASA astronaut, Mark Kelly, and is an avid motorcycle rider, who said one of her dreams is to ride a bike all the way to Argentina. (Writing by Greg McCune, Editing by Peter Bohan and Bill Trott)
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.