In some ways it feels morbid to urge caution for those envisioning a swift fairytale return to politics for Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It’s a sensitive area, and you don’t want to be too much of a downer. But reading Marc Lacey’s very well-reported piece on A1 of the Times this morning, “An Arizona Senate Race Waits to See if Giffords Emerges to Run,” it’s hard not to think—at least for a moment—that we need to couple wishful thinking with hard perspective.

For the most part, Lacey threads a number of caveats into the question of whether Giffords would run for Jon Kyl’s Senate seat in 2012—a move she had openly considered pre-shooting. “While it may be wishful thinking,” begins one paragraph describing fellow Democrats’ reluctance to try for the seat before Giffords had been offered it; Lacey describes reports of Giffords’ progress as “positive but vague.”

Giffords would likely be a formidable candidate, the sympathy vote overcoming her ties to the president’s agenda in the minds of many Republican voters. And Lacey paints a picture of the quiet, slow-but-sure moves that alternative contenders are making as they wait to hear what Giffords will ultimately decide. The detail and speculation gets quite detailed, in fact:

…Ms. Giffords has sided with President Obama enough, on the health care overhaul for instance, that a Republican opponent would have plenty of votes to challenge, as her slim victory over a little-known Republican, Jesse Kelly, last November makes clear.

In that race, Republicans criticized her for spending so much time in Houston, where her husband lives. Those criticisms were clearly on the minds of her Congressional aides when her husband chose a rehabilitation institute in Houston, although political supporters predicted no opponent would ever suggest that she had been derelict in leaving the district after what took place.

Indeed.

What Lacey is unable to get at is just how likely a Giffords run would be, and, for that matter, how likely it is that she will be in a condition to make a decision to run or not. He speaks to Fred DuVal, a member of the state Board of Regents, who is considering running for the seat should Giffords choose not to. DuVal saw Giffords in the hospital last week, but refused to disclose details of her condition.

The most recent assessment of Giffords’s progress that I can find in the media is in this Los Angeles Times report from March 12, which features quotes from Dr. Dong Kim, director of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, that popped up in a number of stories around this time. The paper reported:

“She is clearly saying words she wants and stringing words together … trying to speak in full sentences, such as ‘I’m tired. I want to go to bed,’” he said. “She can say anything we want her to.”

As she has gained strength, therapists have been able to add to her program, both in terms of difficulty and the types of therapy given.

“She is responding beautifully,” Kim said. “She is gaining more movement, more ability to do things for herself…. The amount of assistance she needs has reduced significantly.

“Given that it has been only two months and she is already walking, that is a very favorable sign that she will be even stronger over the next few months.”

During the course of the therapy, Giffords’ bubbly personality has emerged. “Compared to a couple of months ago, she is able to express her personality; what she wants and doesn’t want. It’s not flashes. It’s a constant and wonderful thing,” Kim said.

She also has a good attention span and is able to engage with the doctors and therapists for long periods during therapy and between sessions, he said.

Giffords’ memory of her childhood and past years is good and her memory of ongoing events is also good, but she has no memory of the shooting itself and the immediate aftermath, “which is normal,” Kim said. “We do not anticipate any memory problems for her,” he added.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.