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

Forgery. Lies. Organized crime. Multimillion-dollar transactions. Two guys in dark suits with expensive haircuts.

It sounds like a B-movie, but it's really the race between incumbent John David "J.D." Hayworth Jr. and his challenger Steve Owens for the opportunity to represent Arizona's sixth district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With the presidential election all but decided in Bill Clinton's favor, the chase for 469 House and Senate seats--and control of Congress--might have been the place for voters to find some excitement and substance in the final weeks of the 1996 election. And for months now, the Hayworth-Owens race has been touted as a national bellwether, a chance to hear issues hashed out, to see whether the Republican Revolution or the Clinton Agenda would prevail.

But the race in the sixth district hasn't been exciting or substantial or even modestly intelligent; it's been surreal, almost scary.

Hayworth--the Gingrich Republican--and Owens--a Gore/Clinton Democrat--haven't spent much time discussing welfare reform, education innovation or deficit reduction. Instead, America has been treated to the latest chapter in a book of many volumes: Incredibly Embarrassing Behavior by Arizona Politicians.

Even on the superficial level, the Hayworth-Owens race is unlovely, something that local radio personality Pat McMahon could reasonably cast as Oral Roberts versus The Robot.

In fact, Hayworth, a former sportscaster/motivational speaker/insurance agent who has lived in Arizona since 1987, does have an air of evangelism when he touts the Contract With America that so many of his GOP congressional brethren seem to have forgotten. Also, he's loud; he's got a huge, red forehead that gets redder when he gets excited and seems, in times of stress, ready to explode; and he's fond of using air quotes--imaginary quotation marks made with the fingers, the trademark of the not-ready-for-prime-time motivational speaker. His opponents tend to describe him with words that begin with the letter "b": bombastic, blustering, bumbling, brash, beefy.

Steve Owens is a tight-lipped Laurel to Hayworth's rubber-mouthed Hardy. Tall and thin, with a bobbing Adam's apple, Owens has a tendency to stare into television cameras as though he's been hypnotized. Indeed, Owens looks and acts a lot like his mentor and friend, Vice President Al Gore--although many have noted that Owens is even stiffer. (Owens worked as Gore's chief counsel and state director before settling in Phoenix in 1988.)

Owens begins every public appearance by reciting:

Hi.
I'm Steve Owens.
My father was a truckdriver.
My mother still works at Sears.

But Owens' attempts at down-home always seem to fall flat, in part because his appearance oozes the sort of wimp factor that surrounds George Bush. Owens simply looks more like an Ivy League, downtown Phoenix lawyer than the son of a Memphis truckdriver. The wardrobe is Brooks Brothers, not Sears.

It is not physical presence alone that has made the District 6 race seem so tawdry and content-free. Neither is it a lack of money. The cash continues to pour into both campaigns' piggy banks. As of October 15, Hayworth had raised $704,000, with $329,000 on hand. Owens had raised $482,000, with $415,000 on hand.

That doesn't count the money spent on "educational" commercials by the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and both national parties. The AFL-CIO alone has spent more than $1 million on the race.

And this sad campaign cannot be blamed on lack of expertise, either. Hayworth has hired a national firm, the Stuart Stevens Group, to produce his campaign commercials. Another national firm, Trippi, McMahon and Squire, is producing Owens' ads.

District 6 stretches from east Mesa north to the Four Corners and west to Flagstaff. The district includes the tony communities of north Scottsdale, Carefree and Cave Creek, as well as the run-down mining towns of Globe, Miami and Clifton and the Navajo Indian Reservation.

The senior and low-income residents of the district are concerned about welfare reform and possible cuts in Medicare. Urbanites want to know how the candidates will limit crime. Rural folks want to know how the candidates will preserve cattle-grazing rights while protecting the environment.

Yet as their prospective constituents and the nation watch, Owens and Hayworth continue to clog airwaves and front pages with picayune allegations of inside-baseball impropriety:

A Hayworth staffer forged a signature on a campaign document. Horrors!

An Owens ally used a congressional fax machine to send the Democrat some campaign information. Imagine!

Hayworth's campaign is funded by big business. Owens' campaign is funded by labor interests, some of which may have mob connections.

Hayworth is a carpetbagger.

Owens is a carpetbagger.

All of these statements are at least partially based in fact. None has much to do with good public policy, good politics or good sense.

J.D. Hayworth ran for Congress in 1994, with the promise that he would not be a typical Washington lawmaker.

That's a campaign promise he kept.

Hayworth barged into Washington, D.C., determined to bring about change. His oratorical skill and volume garnered him key policy-making positions as a freshman. He quickly made a fool of himself.

This widely acknowledged buffoonery should not have come as a surprise to anyone who knew Hayworth. He has a documented history of brash behavior. In 1980, while serving as student-body president at North Carolina State University, Hayworth made the front page of the school newspaper, Technician, for his remarks during a student council meeting.

Hayworth was upset, the paper reported, because he had not been chosen to attend a meeting with then-president Jimmy Carter in Washington, D.C. Hayworth claimed he had been discriminated against because he supported John B. Anderson, a Republican presidential candidate.

Other students told the paper Hayworth acted like a child and a prima donna during the meeting.

In 1990, Phoenix dailies reported that Hayworth was suspended from his job at Channel 10 after threatening a local radio producer.

In Washington, Hayworth stormed the Senate and almost started fistfights on the House floor.

Hayworth picked a fight with Maryland Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer by circulating a flier criticizing an amendment regarding health coverage for abortions that Hayworth thought Hoyer had sponsored. (Actually, the sponsor was Representative Ron Packard, a California Republican.)

This subtle flier read:
Hoyer = Illegal drug use "how to" training
Hoyer = sex training for federal employees
Hoyer = New Age cult training

On another occasion, Wisconsin Representative Dave Obey, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, stopped a speech on the floor of the House to chastise Hayworth for kibitzing during Obey's remarks.

"You are one of the most impolite members I have ever seen in my service in this House," Obey told Hayworth.

One of Hayworth's more pathetic attempts at humor--and grabs for attention--comes in the form of Top 10 lists he reads aloud many mornings, during introductory remarks before the House of Representatives.

The following is one of the wittiest of the lists, as recounted in the Congressional Record:

WHY LIBERAL DEMOCRATS OPPOSE THE CONTRACT WITH AMERICA
Mr. Speaker, from the home office back in Scottsdale, AZ, the Top 10 reasons liberal Democrats oppose our Contract With America:

No. 10: Ideas? We don't need your stinking ideas.
No. 9: Book envy.
No. 8: Would you Republicans shut up?
No. 7: Al Gore, what a guy!
No. 6: 'Tis better to have taxed and lost than never to have taxed at all.
No. 5: Never make a promise you might have to keep.
No. 4: Would rather follow the P.T. Barnum maxim, "Never give the taxpayer an even break."
No. 3: Profits? What are profits? Are they evil?
No. 2: Hey, what happened? We thought the status quo was pretty good.

And the No. 1 reason Democrats oppose our Contract With America: Republicans, with our contract, are trying to change this Congress. Democrats would rather change the subject.

The Progressive, an admittedly liberal to radical magazine, dubbed Hayworth one of the "dimmest bulbs" in Congress. But the Washington Post also featured him in a story about unusual new members of Congress in its Style section.

Liz Wilner, managing editor of the Cook Political Report, calls Hayworth an amateur.

She says, "The things that Hayworth has done are not necessarily of the stuff that are going to make voters vote one way or another. Taken collectively, they sort of undermine his credibility and make him look amateurish."

That judgment makes Jason Rose angry. Rose, a Republican consultant and senior associate with the public relations firm Nelson, Robb, DuVal and DeMenna, says of the pundits, "They want to criticize J.D. Hayworth for being someone that most people would consider different. The guy doesn't always do the most tasteful things in the world.

"But J.D. Hayworth campaigned in 1994 on that kind of a platform, where he said, 'I'm not the same old thing. I'm not gonna go back there and just get along with a bunch of folks and not speak my mind.'"

Neither candidate in this race has deep ties to District 6. Hayworth and his family have lived in Scottsdale since 1987. Owens moved to Arizona in 1988 to marry his Vanderbilt Law School sweetheart, Karen, who was already working in Phoenix.

But Owens has lived in District 6 for little more than a year; previously, he lived in central Phoenix. When asked about the recent move--which coincided with his announcement to run for office--Owens acts insulted, explaining that he needed a larger house to accommodate a second child.

Despite Owens' protestations, the relocation was no coincidence. Steve Owens may have lived in Arizona for the past eight years, but he's spent most of that time plotting his path to Washington, D.C. A move across town is nothing, if it means a seat in Congress.

As a lawyer at the Phoenix law firm Brown and Bain, Owens earned a reputation as the Democratic party operative in an office teeming with active Democrats. He became chairman of the Arizona Democratic party in 1993.

During the 1994 political season, Owens considered running against Representative Bob Stump in District 3 and for the U.S. Senate seat left open by retiring Senator Dennis DeConcini.

Wisely predicting the oncoming Republican landslide, Owens stayed out. Now he's running for office full-time, on leave from Brown and Bain. Owens wears cowboy boots and insists he's at home among the rural constituents of District 6. It's obvious he has little in common with them, for it is Owens, the challenger, who is the Washington insider. The incumbent, Hayworth, is largely shunned inside the Beltway, while D.C. pundits practically coo when Owens' name is mentioned.

Wilner says of Owens, "He's a very good candidate. He's raised a lot of money. He's articulate."

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.)

Now, anyone who's worked on Capitol Hill--and this includes the state Democratic party's legal counsel, Andy Gordon, as well as party chairman Sam Coppersmith--knows that aides regularly sign the names of members of Congress on their behalf. But in this particular case, the signature was notarized, and therefore should have been authentic.

Owens and his cohorts have a point when they say the forgery is illegal and raises concerns about Hayworth's conduct. But the Owens campaign went to great lengths to make the forgery the issue of the campaign.

The forgery "scandal" did have the practical effect of forcing Hayworth to fire his campaign manager, Marcus Dell'Artino, who allegedly forged the signature. That left the Hayworth campaign leaderless for a few days in September, just as the election was kicking into high gear.

But Dell'Artino was replaced as campaign manager by Scott Celley, a man with a reputation for playing hardball on behalf of senators John McCain and Jon Kyl.

Under Celley's reign, the Hayworth camp has responded to low-grade sleaze with some cheap shots of its own.

For months, the AFL-CIO has run ads criticizing Hayworth's record on Medicare, taxes, education and pensions. But instead of responding to those charges specifically, Celley faxed reams of newspaper articles and "fact sheets," citing thousands of dollars in contributions to Owens from the Laborer's International Union of North America (LIUNA), and alleging that LIUNA has ties to organized crime.

Hayworth's campaign also released commercials claiming that Owens returned to his native Tennessee a few years ago to see if he'd have a shot at running for Congress from there. Owens vehemently denies the charge.

But perhaps the dumbest commercial was produced not by Hayworth, but by the National Republican Congressional Committee on his behalf. It was designed to counter AFL-CIO ads that had been running for months, accusing Hayworth of voting for dramatic cuts in Medicare and other social spending programs.

The counterattack features a sepia-toned scene of rotund, cigar-smoking "labor bosses" shaking hands across a table stacked with money. A voice tells the audience, "The big labor bosses in Washington, D.C., have a big scheme to buy the Congress. . . . They oppose requiring welfare recipients to work, they're for higher taxes and against a balanced budget. The big unions spend big money on ads because they want Steve Owens to vote their way."

A sweet, mindless, phony middle-class woman sitting in an immaculate kitchen asks, "So who's going to represent me?"

The thought that she might get exactly the congressional representative she deserves, regardless of who wins in November, immediately pops to mind.

Owens' main television advertising blitz began October 21. Content-wise, the ads are less muddy than Hayworth's--and actually mention some issues--but still lack the punch they could have.

At this late date, Owens' ads still feature the great Hayworth forgery scandal as the incumbent's biggest mistake in Congress. They barely mention Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America.

Across the country, polls show that Gingrich and the Contract With America that won Republicans control of Congress in 1994 have fallen in extreme disfavor. In casual conversation, Owens calls it the "Contract on America" and chuckles that Hayworth has hastily tried to distance himself from Gingrich in the last few weeks. But Owens has failed to use the Contract--the best Democratic weapon across the country--effectively.

In fact, there has been remarkably little attempt by either campaign to distinguish the candidates from one another based on issues or policy.

Of course, there are some areas where Owens and Hayworth agree. Both support Indian gaming, a balanced budget and campaign finance reform.

But in most areas, the candidates are polar opposites:

* Social spending: While Owens supports recently passed welfare-reform legislation, he opposes cuts in student loans, pensions, school-lunch programs and Medicare made during Gingrich's reign. Hayworth supported--and still supports--such legislation.

* Taxes: Hayworth strongly supports tax cuts, including the plan proposed by Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. Owens has not endorsed such a plan, and refuses to pledge that he will not vote to raise taxes.

* Gun control: Owens supports gun control. Hayworth does not.

* Education: Hayworth would like to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and give control of schools to the states. Owens opposes the idea.

* National Parks and Monuments: Hayworth voted repeatedly for legislation to create a national park closure commission, much like the commission that shut down military bases. Owens opposes that legislation and--unlike Hayworth--supported President Clinton's dedication of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

* Environment: Hayworth and his supporters point to expansion of Walnut Canyon National Monument as proof of his pro-environment stance. But the Sierra Club strongly opposes Hayworth, citing his poor ratings from the National League of Conservation Voters. Owens shies away from the topic, possibly because many District 6 residents are wise-users, and, oddly for a Democrat, he has not sought the Sierra Club's endorsement.

* Abortion: Hayworth is anti- and Owens is pro-choice.

Not one of these major substantive policy differences has been a focus of campaigning by either candidate in Congressional District 6.

The last independent poll on the Hayworth-Owens race was conducted in late September. The two were virtually tied. Perhaps because of the closeness of the race, as the 1996 campaign season draws to a close, the nastiness is growing even more intense.

When asked during a debate on KTAR radio October 16 what his priority would be if elected, J.D. Hayworth mentioned the possibility of enacting a national sales tax. Campaign manager Scott Celley--who did not happen to be listening to the debate--hotly denied that his boss had endorsed such a tax.

The Owens' camp kicked into high gear, issuing press releases denouncing Hayworth for supporting such a thing--and Celley for denying that support.

The denial itself--and Celley's eventual retraction of the denial--became the story. Any discussion of the pros and cons of a national sales tax were an afterthought.

Last week, Hayworth skipped a final chance to debate Owens. At the last minute, the incumbent dropped out of a League of Women's Voters debate. He didn't like the moderator, Arizona Republic columnist Steve Wilson, and the league refused to bend to Hayworth's wishes for choosing a moderator.

District 6 voters will have to watch the rest of the campaign on television. It will only be conducted during ad breaks.

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