Halloween VI: Election Fright!

In the sixth congressional district, J.D. Hayworth and Steve Owens have run campaigns so devoid of content it's almost scary

J.D. Hayworth may not have his Washington manners down, but he's mastered that campaign trail staple, the "grip and grin," shaking hands and kissing babies all over the sixth congressional district. He has a pretty good reputation for constituent service, too.

In contrast, Steve Owens often looks out of place on the grassroots circuit--or he's just plain absent.

All told, Owens may well have spent as much time in Washington as in Arizona during this campaign season--a potentially suicidal move, considering that voters live in Arizona, not Washington.

Owens missed a photo opportunity with Bill Clinton and Al Gore when the pair visited the Grand Canyon to dedicate the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

That day, Steve Owens was in Washington, D.C., attending a fund raiser.

And he skipped a candidate forum in Kearny, sponsored by the wise-use organization People for the West!. Instead, Owens sent his honorary campaign chairman, retiring state senator Bill Hardt. Hardt is a senior statesman, a conservative Democrat who has served that area for almost 30 years. He insisted that Owens have plastic combs made that say, "Owens for Congress," for Hardt to hand out.

Despite his shared roots and interests with People for the West!, Hardt was no match for Hayworth that evening in Kearny.

He began his speech by practically apologizing for his endorsement of Owens. Then Hardt called the wise-users Republicans (they're not--most are conservative Democrats) and rambled on for so long about Al Gore's good friend Steve Owens that audience members began looking around for the gong.

When it was Hayworth's turn to speak, he grabbed the microphone from its stand and walked around the stage Phil Donahue-style, waving his back-pocket copy of the Constitution and preaching the evils of radical environmentalists. He was dressed down--blue Dockers and a short-sleeved denim shirt--and he made a show of walking over to Hardt before and after the forum, to offer good wishes.

"We all know Bill Hardt and, unfortunately, my opponent is no Bill Hardt," Hayworth told the crowd. They cheered.

With scant exception, the audience was captivated.

On a recent Sunday evening, a few dozen people are gathered at the KAET-TV studios on the campus of Arizona State University, for a rare joint appearance of the District 6 challengers.

Debate moderator Michael Grant starts off with a question about the now-infamous forgery. Hayworth claims that a staff member, Marcus Dell'Artino, forged his name on the congressman's "Affidavit of Qualification" for office.

Owens chides Hayworth for trying to keep the forgery a secret.

The next question is about special-interest money.

When the questions actually begin to address issues, Owens and Hayworth find a way to snipe instead--debating the semantics of whether a decrease in projected increases in Medicare spending is a cut or not, for example.

Owens is as stiff as a marionette. At some points, he laughs, then stops abruptly and looks chagrined at the expression of emotion. Hayworth appears ready to pop through the television screen. He is standing between Owens and Robert Anderson, the Libertarian candidate, and turns his broad back to Owens--effectively cutting the Democrat out of the conversation.

At the conclusion of the hourlong debate--after most people have snapped off their televisions, and long past the time audience members' eyes had glazed over--Owens waves a "candidate civility pledge" in the air, claiming he's recently signed it and challenging Hayworth to do the same.

As he has throughout the debate, Hayworth grimaces and shakes his head dramatically during Owens' speech. When it's his turn to speak, he says, glowering, "The fact is, I signed the civility pledge."

There has been nothing civil about this race.

In fact, it's gotten so ugly that the two candidates can't stand to be in the same barbershop together. When he needs a trim, Hayworth calls ahead to the Renaissance Hair Company in Phoenix--where both he and Owens have, coincidentally, been clients for years--to make sure his opponent isn't in the vicinity.

This has been one of the most expensive campaigns in Arizona history. It's also one of the pettiest.

The first barb came this spring, when Democratic Representative Ed Pastor's then-chief of staff, Gene Fisher, tried to fax a list of Hayworth's congressional office expenses from Pastor's Washington office to Owens' Arizona campaign office. Fisher inadvertently hit the wrong numbers, and the fax was sent to Hayworth's office.

That indiscretion--using government equipment to send campaign information, a common but technically illegal practice--made the daily newspapers.

Members of the Owens camp had been dishing dirt about Hayworth's intelligence and appearance for months (dim and bloated, respectively), but the campaign really turned nasty in July, after Andy Gordon, counsel to the state Democratic party, noticed that Hayworth had filed two separate copies of his Affidavit for Qualification--a document confirming a candidate's legal requirements to run for office--with the Arizona secretary of state.

The Democratic party made a huge show of its discovery, asking a "Forensic Document Examiner" to examine the signatures and determine whether the first signature filed was forged. The conclusions--along with the document examiner's seven-page curriculum vitae and a four-page letter to Attorney General Grant Woods and Secretary of State Jane Dee Hull--were distributed to the media. (Woods and Hull initially refused to take action; in late September, Woods and Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley announced a joint investigation. As of press time, no decision has been released.)

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