Right Time for Sargent?

Look out, McCain. There's a woman after you.

But even if McCain can't be portrayed as a Tailhook villain, there are indications that voters may not hold deep affections for the senator. In the recent primary, Tom Freestone, a Republican candidate for the Corporation Commission, outpolled McCain by more than 8,000 votes statewide. A lot of McCain's money and support comes from outside Arizona--his campaign finance reports list literally hundreds of out-of-state contributors, some who have sent the senator sums as small as $1. His Arizona roots are suspect; he moved to the state in 1981 and almost immediately returned to Washington as a member of the House of Representatives. And his friendship with Charlie Keating stretches back at least a decade, providing opponents with plenty of low-road ammunition.

Sargent's campaign r‚sum‚, on the other hand, looks relatively slim. After working in Goddard's campaign, she ran for the state legislature and lost, she was a player in the fight to secure the Phoenix Indian School property for an urban park, and she was the founder of the International Desert Cities Conference. Though the outbreak of the Gulf War led to the cancellation of the Desert Cities Conference, which was supposed to bring 500 civic leaders from desert cities around the world to Phoenix to discuss common problems, Sargent did arrange a "preamble" to the conference, hosting mayors from 16 cities around the world. Still, not having a record to run from can be an advantage this year. Asked what she'd bring to the office, she "expounds" again.

"I feel like in a lot of ways Arizona's been ripped off," she says. "I think Barry Goldwater was somebody who deeply cared about it, and Mo Udall did. I feel it's been so diminished by the recent black marks that our leaders have perpetrated. Here McCain came in, he chose Arizona. He came from Washington, he ran and he went back. That's exactly what Truman was going to do. That's what Doug Wead is doing. Wake up, Arizona. People can come in here and they still think they can take the money and run."

This is still the frontier, a land of opportunity--and opportunists.

"Bruce Babbitt once said anybody with a thousand dollars to spend can come out here and become a social leader," she says. "I think Arizona is really ready to find our identity and not our image--identity being what we really are, image what we're perceived to be."

Sargent says the past 12 years have been rough on the state and the country. When Nancy and Ronald Reagan moved into the White House, one of their first gestures was to remove the solar panels installed by the "naive" Jimmy Carter. The story is that the President and the First Lady sipped champagne on the roof as the panels were taken down.

"The beginning of the '80s: Rip off the solar panels," Sargent says. "Such divisive things have been going on, the Martin Luther King Day thing, divisions between Native Americans, Hispanics--we've really been reduced to the haves versus the have-nots during these last 12 years."

Sargent says she believes that if she wins it will be because she was meant to win. Because, as Woody Allen advises, she was willing to show up.

"You have to really look inside yourself," she says, "and know who you are, because you know that things are going to be said about you, people are going to turn on you, you're not going to know who your friends are. So you really have to know who you are. You have to do kind of an internal journey and come to this decision and know that no matter what happens, you can take it. I said earlier that I was terrified. Well, I'm not afraid anymore."

The question is irresistible. Not even of winning?

Sargent laughs. A high titter, more amused than nervous.

"You mean like in The Candidate? 'What now? What the hell do we do now?' Well, the learning curve will certainly be straight up."

She catches herself--the self-editing process kicks in.

"On the process of being a senator, that is."

She's learning already.

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