Arizona and the Siege of the Rangers

Cheer and flag clothing on the campaign trail, 1998

BUT WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Yearning for substance, the questioner is driven into a teeth-clenching, nail-biting, hair-twirling frenzy. The Candidate just smiles politely and continues the empty prattle.

Ranger keeps promising he'll release his platform soon. He's been talking about The Platform for months, as though he's putting the final touches on a doctoral dissertation. He says he's traveling around the state, interviewing Arizonans to see what they want.

"My approach to putting together a political platform is to be as inclusive as possible," he says. "And people are writing us e-mails and faxes and that's how we're putting it together."

That's very nice, very democratic, but don't the voters want a candidate who has some idea of how he feels about something? Anything?

Certainly, John McCain knows how he feels and will make that clear if the two debate. McCain's got a whole "battle book" crammed with his beliefs and actions on issues ranging from a child tax credit to the Seawolf submarine. McCain is ready.

Okay, Ed, here's a softball: What is your position on McCain's tobacco legislation, which has been plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the country for the past few weeks?

"We're all in favor of decreasing the incidence of smoking among children. I think we're all against the tobacco industry's past behavior of not telling the truth and deceiving America. I question Mr. McCain's motivation, given his voting record over the past couple years and the fact that he's taken money from the tobacco industry. I think it's a great issue to launch a presidential campaign on."

But what do you think of the legislation itself?

A long pause, then: "Well, I'm trying to track all of the nuances of the legislation. It's over 400 pages, so there are a lot of details that are not available to the public."

Actually, the "National Tobacco Policy and Youth Smoking Reduction Act" (Senate Bill 1415)--like all federal legislation--has been available to the public and to Ranger on the Internet since its introduction, at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

So the only mystery is: Why hasn't The Candidate hammered out a stand?

Where the Wild Things Are, Flagstaff, 6:25 p.m.

The Rangers have chosen a funky children's bookstore in downtown Flagstaff as the site for Ed Ranger's final campaign announcement. Maybe it's the colorful surroundings, maybe it's punchiness from a day that started before dawn, maybe it's because the small store is packed with people--including former Phoenix mayor and gubernatorial candidate Paul Johnson--but the Ranger campaign team seems to have gotten its second wind. Ranger seems to have forgotten the humiliating scene in Phoenix with the jackals.

Video Guy zooms in determinedly on the book covers. Mom shops for the grandchildren. Someone finds a copy of the book The Little Engine That Could, and proclaims it the official book of Ed's campaign.

He thinks he can. He thinks he can. He thinks he can.

With fresh lipstick and her hair pulled back, Jackie looks as good as she did this morning. (She was, after all, a Delta Gamma at UofA.) She's giving her speech for the fourth time today. The language ("our magnificent neighbor to the south") is still silly, but she's relaxed, finally, and this is her best performance. It's Ed's best, too, judging from the crowd's reaction. His bland generalities are a hit--even the non-Rangers in the audience smile and nod and clap.

After the speeches, the Rangers learn that's probably because they don't understand English very well. The non-Rangers in the room (aside from Paul Johnson's entourage) are visiting Ukrainians, here to learn about American democracy.

Scratch those eight votes.

As Ed and Ned chat up the Ukrainians, across the store Sandy hugs her daughter tight.

"I love you, Jackie, but I don't want to see you give that speech again," she says. Jackie laughs, agrees. "Me either," she says, as they rock back and forth. "Me either."

On a cool evening in late May, after a gringo's meal of taquitos and iced tea at Mi Amigo's at the Arizona Center, Ed Ranger is walking back to his headquarters and reflecting on the past three months. The campaign's going pretty well, all things considered. The family-run campaign was put on hold for a few weeks when Jackie's husband, Terry Flood, died of cancer in early April. Now Ed's mother Sandy has taken over Jackie's role as scheduler.

For some reason--strategy? ignorance?--Ed doesn't bother to mention it tonight, but next week he and Pete are headed for Washington, D.C., to spread the Ranger gospel, whatever that means, and scare up some campaign contributions. They've decided to give the family some relief finally by hiring a strong team of campaign advisers--including Los Angeles pollster John Fairbank and San Diego media consultant Bill Waboch. (No word as to whether Video Guy's montage will be used in TV ads.)

And that new level of sophistication means that the lemonade-stand era of the Ranger campaign is probably over. The intercession of campaign wonks probably will herald a plethora of "positions" on the issues, perfectly weighted for voter appeal. Is that really what Ranger was cynically waiting to do all along, or was he really looking for truth and justice in his e-mails and letters to find out what he thought?

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