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Giffords' campaign chairman: 'We just have to wait and see'

From David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin, CNN
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Mike McNulty: 'We have to wait and see'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "God has more important things planned for her," says her campaign chairman
  • He faults Giffords' opponents for rallies "that seemed designed to intimidate her staff"
  • "She is a genuine centrist"
  • Tea Party advocates have condemned the shootings

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Tucson, Arizona (CNN) -- Moments after returning from visiting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at the hospital, the congresswoman's six-time campaign chairman said Sunday that he is confident that she will survive, though the extent of her recovery remained unclear.

"The doctors are pretty clear that we just have to wait and see," Mike McNulty told CNN in an exclusive interview.

The impact on Giffords' family has been huge, he said. Asked how her husband, astronuat Mark Kelly, was faring, McNulty said, "He is a Navy combat fighter and he can take about anything, but this is a terrible experience."

Asked about Giffords' ability to survive a 9mm slug to the head, McNulty said, "I can only think that God has more important things planned for her in the future."

Even as he acknowledged that the motive for the shooting remains unknown, McNulty faulted Giffords' opponents in last year's elections for stirring up emotions in the campaign to an unacceptable level.

"There were rallies around her office that seemed designed to intimidate her staff, which simply doesn't seem very American to me," he said, though he added that he never felt threatened.

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The rallies were organized by members of the Tea Party around Giffords' support for President Barack Obama's health care bill, he said. "There was a level of vituperation that no one has ever seen, and there was, you know, the famous incident of people showing up with handguns and losing control of handguns that just fall in the street and brandishing handguns."

He added, "That's where the Tea Party, I think, went over the edge. They thought it was fun to talk about using your firearms to solve political problems, and I don't think that's fun."

Tea Party advocates have condemned Saturday's shootings.

"These heinous crimes have no place in America, and they are especially grievous when committed against our elected officials," said Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express.

"Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash of ideas. An attack on anyone for political purposes, if that was a factor in this shooting, is an attack on the democratic process. We join with everyone in vociferously condemning it."

McNulty credited Giffords with having a special ability to work from the center with all sides in politics, a strength that served the Democrat well in an overwhelmingly Republican state. "If you look at the demographics, you would not think that she could get elected," he said.

"The way she inspires people reminds me a little bit of when I worked for Mo Udall (the former Democratic Arizona congressman) and the people that worked for Ted Kennedy (the late Democratic senator from Massachusetts) -- people who would walk through a wall for the people they believed in. But, unlike them, she doesn't inspire by leading from one of the fringes.

"She is a genuine centrist and being inspirational from the center is not that easy, but she can do it and she causes people to just simply love her."

CNN's Drew Griffin contributed to this story

 
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