Stealth Zealot

Pop quiz. Who’s Arizona’s other U.S. senator? Here’s a clue: He makes Dubya look like a liberal

And Pederson is getting good at this candidate shtick. Generally perceived as a milquetoast, Pederson has picked up energy in recent months. He speaks with believably rousing conviction. He's pounding issues, rattling off stats.

It helps that Kyl is a pretty easy target.

"Without any real competition, Jon Kyl has been able to indulge his extremes," Pederson tells New Times. "He has a voting record to the right of Rick Santorum, for goodness' sakes! Is that Arizona? Absolutely not. Jon Kyl has nothing to do with Arizona."

Former SRP general manager Jack Pfister
Former SRP general manager Jack Pfister
ASU pollster Bruce Merrill predicts Jon Kyl will still win in November.
Peter Scanlon
ASU pollster Bruce Merrill predicts Jon Kyl will still win in November.

Kyl and his staff argue that his voting record is more moderate than Pederson insists. They also say Kyl has strayed from the Bush administration on several votes.

Study his voting record, though, and Kyl has voted against the administration, or against what would be considered conservative legislation, in only a smattering of instances. And Kyl never went against the administration or the party's power elite on close votes. And never when his vote mattered.

This wouldn't be an issue if Dubya were still a popular president with a popular administration. But his numbers have plummeted, and mini-scandal after mini-scandal has ground at his credibility. Analysts say those in the Senate, like Kyl, who have pushed his agenda and the people he has chosen to hire have made themselves vulnerable.

That said, Kyl is still in the driver's seat.

For starters, Arizonans rarely toss out a sitting senator. Indeed, Arizona is known nationally as the state that treats its congressional delegates like lifelong appointees. Hayden, Goldwater, Paul Fannin and DeConcini, for example, with their combined century of service, all had to decide not to run to not get elected again.

And as Arizona State University political analyst Bruce Merrill points out, Kyl is not unliked. Indeed, he is respected "by both sides of the aisle . . . he is a hard worker . . . he has no integrity issues [and] he has as much money as he wants at his fingertips."

Also, it's an off-year election, which, in Arizona, tends to keep working moderate Democrats away from the polls while Arizona's vast swath of retiree Republicans keep coming out.

Also, Senator Paul Fannin's son, Bob, the former Republican Party chair, is Kyl's powerhouse campaign finance manager.

"If Jon needs $20 million to win," Merrill says, "Jon will get $20 million to win.

"But if anybody can put up a fight, it's Pederson. Kyl has a four or five percentage point advantage right out of the gate as a Republican, then add his money and that he's an incumbent, well, that's tough. But Pederson knows the odds and has proven he can find and make up the difference by counting noses and getting people to the polls."

The trick for Pederson, Merrill and others say, is to effectively tie Kyl to the unpopular administration he has pimped. And, beyond that, it is to explain how Kyl's voting record has adversely affected average Arizonans, particularly senior citizens and parents with kids in school.

"There is no question his voting record is quite conservative," Merrill says. "Is that what Arizona voters want out of their senator? I don't know. The trick will be to get [voters] to answer that question at the polls.

"With all these interesting elements coming together," Merrill says, "I really do believe this will be the featured race in the United States. For Arizonans, that will mean they're about to get every major Republican and Democratic celebrity in the country out here talking to them. It's just going to be a fascinating race."

Jon Kyl made a name for himself at the University of Arizona with his keen mind and big political ambitions. After getting his undergraduate degree, he entered the University of Arizona law school and was quickly one of his class' top students.

"I just love the law," Kyl says. "I especially got excited about natural law -- what is the nature of man? How can government best accommodate the competing interest?"

His voting record would indicate that he follows one of the key elements of natural law -- that the health and strength of the system relies on competing interests being allowed to duke it out on their own for supremacy.

At UofA, Kyl was the Alpha Preppie, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, editing the Arizona Law Review and meeting his longtime love, Caryll, at church one Sunday.

After school, Kyl landed a sweetheart job with Jennings, Strouss and Salmon, the Phoenix law firm that represented many of the state's most powerful people.

There, Kyl was part of a team of attorneys representing the Salt River Project. The team included Rex Lee, who later served as the president of Brigham Young University and U.S. Solicitor General, and Jack Pfister, who later became the longtime general manager of SRP.

In time, Kyl became the senior lawyer, and chief lobbyist, for the Salt River Project.

As such, he became deeply familiar with the machinery of state and federal government.

"Jon is a very bright, nimble thinker with an amazing grasp of complex policy issues," says Pfister, his old mentor and longtime friend, himself one of Arizona's elder statesmen. "In Washington, even though he's clearly a very conservative individual, he gets a lot of respect from Democrats for his work drafting and negotiating legislation. He's just a very gifted and respected legislator."

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