Hee-Haw Politics

Clinton won, Fife lost, and now state Dems have high hopes for '98. But they're in for a wild-ass ride

Basha, best-known in political circles for his years on the Arizona Board of Regents, in 1994 made a run for governor and, much to everyone's surprise--Basha himself was no exception--he won his party's nomination.

The day after the primary, Basha was almost 40 points ahead of incumbent Governor Fife Symington. But he managed to lose the race.

Basha refused to say anything negative about his opponent. Instead, he sat back while Symington slaughtered him. By race's end, the centrist Basha was primarily known as a proponent of gay marriage and runaway spending.

Pollster Bruce Merrill, who counts Basha as a good friend, says, "Eddie ran the most incompetent campaign I have seen in the years I've been doing it."

Merrill remembers that he heard from Basha a few times during the general campaign. Basha couldn't understand why he was slipping in the polls. Merrill recalls telling Basha to attack Symington's business record and record in office. "[Eddie] would say, 'Well, Bruce, if that's what you gotta do, then I guess I'm not going to win.'"

Merrill adds, "I don't admire Eddie for that. He shouldn't have gotten into the goddamn game, if he didn't understand the game that was being played out there."

Despite his bruising defeat, Basha announced months ago that he would run again for governor. The Basha campaign staff made it known in political circles that it was counting on Symington's acquittal on felony charges in federal court this summer--or at least a mistrial. Basha wasn't counting on having to run against his old friend Jane Hull. Like Johnson, Basha would have had difficulty coming up with a dramatically different message from Hull's. And if he refused to attack Symington, who was not a friend, how would he fare on the campaign trail against Hull?

The first clue that Basha hadn't toughened up came when Symington was convicted, and Basha sentimentally announced his stand that Symington shouldn't have to serve jail time.

In the end, Basha wimped out totally. He dropped out of the race, and canceled his $3 million pledge to the Democratic campaign for governor. With little more than a year to go, the Dems were in disarray. They didn't have enough time to recruit another big leaguer, and so resigned themselves to a Johnson candidacy.

The Phantom:

Ed Ranger

Ed Ranger is supposedly the man who will beat the unbeatable U.S. Senator John McCain--the guy with a war chest of millions and name recognition through the roof.

Oh, you never heard of Ranger? That's the problem. Like Claire Sargent in 1992, Ranger looks to be a sacrificial lamb, a place-holder, a candidate who doesn't mind losing to let the party save face. He's somebody, anybody, a name on a campaign sticker, a warm body to toss into the ring against McCain.

Ranger's name has appeared only once in the Arizona Republic since 1992, and then only as an aside in a story about McCain. He has created a campaign committee, and is raising money, but has yet to put out a campaign biography. His Web site is still under construction.

The mystery candidate's brother Pete is running the campaign for now. He supplied a thumbnail on the candidate: Ed Ranger, 37 and single, grew up in Phoenix. He has a law degree from Arizona State University and another from a Mexican law school; until recently, Ranger ran his own environmental law firm in Mexico.

Ranger moved home recently to be near his family, and run against McCain, Pete says. He's spent the past few months traveling the state.

Tune in next year for more information.

For a party that has historically counted on its personalities, rather than strong party machinery, this brood constitutes an embarrassing--and crucial--drought. With scant voter appeal, scarcely a clear message amongst them and a charm deficit that could span the Grand Canyon, this group is an ill fit for good-ol'-boy, conservative, tell-it-like-it-is Arizona. If the Democrats are to survive, somebody's got to generate interest, contributions and votes. It's not likely to be these folks.

Meanwhile, the Arizona GOP isn't saddled with custom-fitting its own low-wattage crew to its constituency. Instead, the Republicans can rely on a historically strong organization and their recent penchant for co-opting all of the strong campaign messages around. Under those circumstances, bringing in a candidate with charisma is like bringing a sandwich to a picnic.

The irony is that, in the beginning, Arizona was a one-party state--Democratic. There were so many Democrats, says ASU's Bruce Merrill, that when Arizona applied for statehood in 1912, state and church leaders had to scramble to come up with Republicans to satisfy legislation requiring a two-party state.

Merrill says, "The Mormon bishops called their congregations together and stood in the front and said, 'Everybody sitting on the right of the aisle is a Republican and everybody sitting on the left side is a Democrat.'"

Now Arizona is a one-party state again.

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