Arizona and the Siege of the Rangers

Cheer and flag clothing on the campaign trail, 1998

The dawn of a new campaign.

It's 7:25 a.m., Tuesday, March 3, at the foot of the steps to Old Main, the University of Arizona's trademark edifice in Tucson. Ed Ranger has traveled to the bottom of the state to announce his candidacy for the top spot on Arizona's political food chain--the U.S. Senate seat held by two-term incumbent John McCain.

In requisite Arizona campaign uniform--navy suit, power tie, cowboy boots--the 37-year-old Paradise Valley Democrat wanders around, doing the grip 'n' grin. Campaign staffers set up for what will be the first of four announcements today across the state. The Ranger for U.S. Senate campaign has pulled out all its stops: A sound system with giant speakers, folding tables, and oversize U.S. and Arizona state flags on poles emerge from the back of the campaign's sparkling leased Suburban. Plus doughnuts, coffee, piles of campaign literature. A podium is set up at the base of the steps to Old Main. A young guy with a video camera tapes the action.

Marty Robbins' "The Lone Ranger" plays on a tape loop.

At 8:30 a.m.--as per the campaign schedule, which has been sent to every media outlet in town--the candidate takes the stage with his prepared speech and leans into the mike.

No amplification necessary.

Aside from state Democratic party chair Mark Fleisher, a couple of passers-by, a few friends and three reporters (none from the TV stations or the local paper of record, the Arizona Daily Star), the crowd is all Ranger. Mom, dad, brothers, sisters, niece, nephews, godfather, all spit-shined, many wearing clothing emblazoned with a U.S. flag, courtesy of Ralph Lauren.

The crowd numbers no more than two dozen total, not counting the few people who traipse right through the middle of the festivities, up the stairs and into Old Main, on their way to work.

Ed Ranger's family may be the hardest-working clan in politics since the Kennedys--at least this year. For now, they form the core of the Ranger for U.S. Senate team.

Here's the lineup. Campaign manager is kid brother Pete, at 25, a spiky-haired, hyper Gen Xer who hates Generation X references and predicts the campaign trail will look a lot like it did in the romanticized version of the '92 presidential race, Speechless. Official scheduler is the sweet and businesslike kid sister, Jackie Ranger Flood, 31, the sorority-pretty mother of 3-year-old Jack. Working campaign stops today will be father Ned, a litigator with a successful Phoenix law practice; mother Sandy, a former small-businesswoman who is now working full-time on the campaign. Sister Julie, 33, brother Pat, 35, and their spouses plus assorted nieces and nephews round out the family portrait. Jack St. Amand, Ranger's godfather and cousin, shows up in Tucson with the doughnuts.

In the 1960s, Ned ran for county office in his native Michigan and lost. Since then, no one in the family has worked on a campaign; but they bring impressive energy to the present task.

Once you get a picture of the Ranger campaign team, you've got a pretty fair picture of the campaign itself: a Fourth of July picnic. It doesn't seem to have much more substance than that, either. And its centerpiece is a guy who admits he doesn't always vote, has never held political office and has lived in Mexico for the past nine years. Yet this is the candidate the Arizona Democratic party has chosen to put up against the state's most powerful and popular elected official, Senator John McCain.

Ranger's favorite accusation against McCain is that he's running for another office, the presidency; but Ranger looks like he's running for another office, too--president of student council. McCain has deep pockets and a bulging campaign treasury; all Ranger has are his 1995 Harley (in the shop so often he had to borrow Pete's for a recent photo shoot) and the note on the $100,000 he's lent his campaign.

Is he serious?

Stick Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth with a pin--let out the hot air and at least 100 pounds--and you've got Ed Ranger. Ranger's a slight version of the sportscaster-cum-Republican lawmaker, with the same made-for-TV smooth looks and good hair but without the bombast. Or the Republican ideology. Or any ideology at all, apparently.

Hayworth may be a rhetoric-spouting right-wing blowhard who gets in the way in Washington more often than not. But an hour with Ed Ranger would leave even a liberal Democrat begging for Hayworth. At least J.D. Hayworth has ideas.

On paper, Ed Ranger's not bad. He was educated in Arizona; he's a lawyer; he started his own successful small business--a law firm in Mexico that helped American corporations navigate that country's maze of environmental regulations. He's gracious, good-looking, polite. Eyelashes out to here. He's got a nice family. Ranger would be a viable candidate for the state Legislature or city council, maybe even for statewide office like secretary of state, depending upon his opposition.

Even John McCain started out by running for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, when John Rhodes retired.

But Ranger likes to start at the top. He's taking on Arizona's Goliath, the state's senior senator, a war hero, no less. That's in character, say those who know Ed Ranger. All his life, he's been the eager freshman who's run for student body president. He seldom wins, though he usually makes a good go at it. And this time he's going at it with everything he's got.

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