Echoing other local pundits, the Republican insider says Kaites bowed to HighGround's pressure when he decided to run with "Bearded Tom."

"I know Kaites didn't want to do it," the insider says. "He held them off for a long time. They wanted to go negative right away."

Former Symington chief of staff Jay Heiler, now a McGovern consultant, says Kaites should be held accountable for his campaign's actions.

"Everybody wants to blame Gullett and Coughlin," says Heiler--who's reportedly no fan of either man, although he refuses to say as much, "but you know, there's only one lawyer in this deal with him and it's him. John Kaites is the only legal mind brought to bear on this campaign strategy going on here." Heiler concludes that no matter how persuasive his consultants were, Kaites has to take ultimate responsibility for everything his campaign does.

John Kaites did not return calls for this column. Earlier in the campaign, he announced he would not speak to New Times, per the advice of his campaign advisers, Coughlin and Gullett.

In the eyes of many Republicans, John Kaites went from Party Boy to Public Enemy No. 1 in 30 seconds--the length of his "Bearded Tom" spot.

The commercial went up Wednesday, September 2. The McGovern campaign first heard about it at 7:30 that morning from a reporter. By midafternoon, McGovern and his entourage--including AG Grant Woods, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Tom's teary-eyed wife, Carol--were crashing a Kaites press conference, demanding that Kaites sign an affidavit swearing he'd never tried marijuana.

McGovern, who had already signed, practically chased Kaites out of his own press conference, waving the affidavit at him. Kaites never signed; later that day, a campaign aide admitted Kaites had smoked pot once in high school.

McGovern consultant Jason Rose, who had arrived at the press conference holding a mysterious-looking three-ring binder--empty, but designed to look like it was stuffed with opposition research--admits it was just a hunch.

"We had nothing. We had zero," Rose says. "We rolled the dice and guessed correctly."

Even without the affidavit trick--which Rose says was Grant Woods' idea--Kaites looked bad. Overnight, Republicans turned on him. The day after the press conference, Thursday, September 3, about 500 political movers and shakers packed a room at the Arizona Biltmore to hear Texas Governor George W. Bush speak at a fund raiser for Governor Jane Dee Hull.

It should have been John Kaites' crowd. He's worked it for years, attending party functions, schmoozing the insiders. But those who were there say Kaites kept to the corner while McGovern gripped and grinned and reveled in his new popularity.

A Republican who was there and asked to remain anonymous says he was planning to vote for Kaites until he saw the commercial--then he immediately sent in his vote-by-mail ballot, with McGovern's name checked off.

He says he noticed the Kaites chill-out at the Bush event. "He was visibly uncomfortable being there. He was not working the room. He stood outside in the foyer at the end of the event, pretty much by himself," he recalls, while McGovern "was inside, still, yakking away."

At one point, the anonymous Republican says, Kaites leaned over to a friend and whispered, "This is the worst thing I've ever done."

But in public, Kaites kept his campaign armor on. That evening, he and McGovern taped a debate on Channel 10, the local Fox affiliate. McGovern, who spent most of the campaign teasing Kaites about his days as a TV weatherman and calling him "Buster Bad Ass" and "The Caped Crusader" because of his tough stand on crime, couldn't resist a dig. During a commercial break, Rose recalls, McGovern leaned over and said, "So, John, how does it feel to have run for seven years and come up just a little bit short?"

The commercial ended before Kaites could respond.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

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