Arizona and the Siege of the Rangers

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.

Problem is, he hasn't got much. The latest Federal Election Commission figures, from March 31, say Ranger had $168,000 on hand, compared to McCain's $1.2 million. But Ed Ranger's real deficit isn't in the bank. It may be in his head. Since the beginning of the year, when he began to talk about running against McCain, reporters have been challenging Ranger to cough up his platform, his ideas. So far, he's steered clear of taking any decipherable stands, except for his fuzzy support of abortion rights.

Talking to Ed Ranger about public policy issues is like discussing ethics with Jerry Springer. He has a vague notion that they exist, but the details don't seem to have penetrated his thinking.

Ranger has a bachelor's degree in Spanish from the University of Arizona, a master's from the American Graduate School of International Management (a.k.a. Thunderbird), a law degree from Arizona State University and another law degree from the National University of Mexico. All his life, every time he's wanted to do something new, Ranger's gone out and gotten himself a degree to prepare for it.

Short of a three-day crash course offered by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C.--and he's already taken that--there's no degree Ranger can get that will prepare him to run for the United States Senate. And it shows.

Old Main, Tucson, 8:30 a.m.

Jackie Ranger Flood concludes her introduction of Ed, her voice shaking. "My brother is full of energy, goodness and strength." The family erupts in cheers, and it's Ed's turn. The Candidate stands stiffly at the podium, and, hands clasped behind his back, begins to read.

"Today, I announce my candidacy for the United States Senate. Oy," pause, pause.

Wait. It's "Hoy," he's saying, as in Hoy anuncio mi candidatura para ser el senador federal del estado librer y soberano de Arizona, the same sentence, repeated in Spanish. He's fluent in Spanish, but every time Ranger gives the speech today, he's so stilted and nervous it sounds as though he's about to interject the Yiddish "Oy vey."

The family doesn't notice. They cheer when it seems appropriate, like whenever Ed pauses for a breath.

"For the course of 21st-century public policy, I offer a clear contrast to Senator McCain:

"I will support public education. He has not.

"I will support clean air and water. He has not.

"I will support middle-class families. He has not.

"I will support senior citizens. He has not.

"I will support choice. He has not.

"And as our next U.S. senator, I will support all Arizonans."

Toward the end of his remarks, Ranger picks up some steam, enjoying this in spite of himself.

"Remember," he says, "upsets are an Arizona tradition," mentioning Barry Goldwater's surprise defeat of Ernest McFarland in 1952.

Cheers! Pleased, Ranger pauses, then dangerously veers from the script, recalling the 1998 Super Bowl game.

"And," he says, "we've had the Broncos defeat the Green Bay Packers!"

Huh? Ed's father, Ned, guffaws loudly and yells, "Whatever that means!" Everyone laughs. Then Grace Ann, Ed's 6-year-old niece, runs up to her uncle for a hug. End of speech.

Pete crams Video Guy, most of the family and all of the campaign paraphernalia back into the Suburban, and the campaign team is off in search of the Tucson airport's executive terminal, to drop off Ed, Ned, Jackie and Mark Fleisher for a flight to Yuma and Ed's 11 a.m. announcement there.

Conversation ranges from Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy's chances at defeating Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe (good) to the hygiene of the Dairy Queen at Picacho Peak, where Jackie stopped for a snack yesterday (she says she's calling the health department).

After much debate in the manner of National Lampoon's Vacation, the Rangers stop at Dunkin' Donuts to refill thermoses, then take a few queasy turns around the airport perimeter as Pete and his dad argue about directions.

At last--after a flurry of cheek-kissing--Ed and his entourage wing off to Yuma, and Pete, Video Guy and company drive back to Phoenix to set up for the afternoon's event at the Ranger for U.S. Senate's new headquarters at the Mercado.  

No one speaks as Pete turns onto I-10, heading west. Video Guy takes an overripe pear from his camera bag, examines it, aims his camera out the window. Finally, someone asks: Who are you? Turns out he's Sloane McFarland (no relation to Ernest), a former high school buddy of Pete's.

What do you do? "I edit movies." What kind of movies? "Movies I shoot." Sloane says he intends to tape the day's activities, and present the Ranger campaign with a montage.

The Rangers are big on trivia. Like, did you know that Marty Robbins, who sings "The Lone Ranger," was raised in Glendale? Or that Larry Pike, John McCain's campaign manager, grew up around the corner from the Ranger family in Michigan? Or that it's exactly eight months to the day, from today--the day of Ed's announcement--until the election?!

From patriarch Ned down to 3-year-old Jack, the Rangers are sweet and funny and personable. Lots of hugs and teasing.

Growing up in Grosse Pointe, there wasn't much talk of politics around the dinner table, says Ed, the eldest of five. Baseball was a more likely topic.

In the late '70s, Ned and Sandy were looking for a change. Ned had recently been to Arizona on business and liked it, so the Rangers moved their clan to Paradise Valley. Ranger transferred from Michigan's Oakland University to the UofA to be closer to the family. He changed his major from English to Spanish, figuring he'd need to be bilingual, living so close to the border.

After college, Ranger enrolled at the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale. He left a few credits shy of a master's; he says he couldn't afford the private tuition. After a brief and unenlightening stint as a mortgage broker, Ranger was back in school, this time studying law at ASU. After graduation in 1987, he finished the final credits for his Thunderbird master's degree at ASU.

Three diplomas later, it was finally time, at age 26, to look for work. But instead of settling for a job in Phoenix, Ranger decided he wanted to practice law in Mexico City. He copied the Mexico section of the Martindale Hubble lawyer directory, bought a plane ticket and walked the city until a small firm called Laffan and Mues hired him. Because he wasn't licensed to practice in Mexico, Ranger was classified as a "foreign legal expert." So, per his style, he went back to school to get his Mexican law degree; he was licensed to practice law in Mexico in 1994. Pete came down and helped his brother set up his office.

Ranger's official campaign biography lists his hobbies as "boxing, hiking, skiing, tennis, motorcycle riding and spending time with his family." He has fond memories of the time he and Pete rode their Harleys home for Christmas, all the way from Mexico. Aside from his family, he doesn't speak of his private life at all. His only discussion of romance is a wistful comment on the topic of his parents: "I can see the attraction, seeing the old pictures."

He's single, never married, has always maintained close contact with his family. Even from Mexico, it wasn't unusual for him to speak to his parents once or twice a day.

By last year, Ranger had his own small practice, specializing in environmental regulation, and counted Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, General Electric and Cooper Industries among his clients.

Ceil Price, a senior counsel to Cooper Industries, based in Houston, an auto-parts manufacturing company with annual revenues around $4 billion, hired Ranger as outside counsel; he helped to negotiate the expansion of one of her company's facilities and researched environmental issues.

"I found him to be a delight to work with," Price says. "He is not only . . . charming and articulate, but he's also quite competent. He is very knowledgeable about his field . . . and more importantly he would deliver what I asked him to deliver on time and at a fair price."

And now, after nine years, Ed Ranger has tossed it all aside, giving up his thriving law practice and his stature as an up-and-coming American in Mexico to try to become a U.S. senator.

Ranger had met former Arizona Secretary of State Dick Mahoney at Thunderbird, where Mahoney teaches, and the two kept in touch. As Ranger recalls it, in early 1997 Mahoney told him he had recommended Ranger to Arizona Democratic party officials as a possible candidate against McCain. (Mahoney didn't return calls seeking comment.)  

Mahoney's suggestion dovetailed with Ranger's sense that he'd been an expatriate too long. After talking it over with his family and some Democratic party elders, Ranger sold his practice, moved home and dumped all his money into the campaign.

Although he'd never shown an interest at home, Ranger had dabbled in Democratic politics in Mexico. Even then, he admits, he didn't always bother to vote in American elections. He was, however, a member of Democrats Abroad, and a nonvoting delegate to the 1992 Democratic convention.

"I represented the biggest land mass--the entire Western Hemisphere--and had the least amount of input," he says, with a rare tinge of irony, and no recognition at all that Mexico is not a state.

Back to Earnest Ed: "I became more and more involved in the 1992 presidential campaign," he says, "and that's where I saw Bill Clinton take on George Bush when all the other Democratic contenders decided that President Bush couldn't be beaten, and I admired that spirit. So I tried to volunteer. I even flew to Little Rock a couple times."

Not surprisingly, James Carville didn't come sprinting out of the War Room to greet Ranger. "They were pretty self-sufficient," Ranger says, declining to elaborate. He went back to Mexico.

Ed Ranger's trip to Little Rock, and his Senate candidacy, illustrate his standard procedure, dating all the way back to high school, the only other time he's run for office. He goes for the top. Ranger wasn't active in high school student government, but he ran for office: student body president. He lost.

Phoenix lawyer Joe Duarte, who met Ranger at ASU, recalls being astonished at his friend's chutzpah when Ranger entered a contest designed to test the skills of third- and precocious second-year law students. Ranger was a first-year student. Ranger didn't win, but he did very well, Duarte says. "I remember being impressed as hell."

Duarte also recalls that Ranger arranged for a handful of judges from Mexico and Central America to visit ASU; law students got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit around the pool at Ranger's apartment building and chat with foreign supreme court justices.

"[Ranger] did this as a law student," Duarte says. "Now, you're going to be hard-pressed to find people in Congress who are going to be able to do that the way he did it."

His friend always takes the more challenging, but often more rewarding, route, Duarte says. Once, he says, he told Ranger he couldn't make a trip down to see him in Mexico because he was going whale watching on a boat in California. "Ed goes, 'Are you kidding me? I was out swimming with the whales last week. I do it all the time in Ensenada.' He goes out there and he's not on a boat. He's in a raft. He gets into the water with them and he's swimming with them, petting the whales. That is Ed."

Ed Ranger's got Joe Duarte's vote.

"I think [Ranger's] got something different, and I don't know what you call it," Duarte says. "Some people call it heart, some people call it guts, some people intestinal fortitude, some people call it chutzpah. . . . In Spanish they call it no se raja, and that means, 'He doesn't hesitate; he doesn't flinch.'"

The Mercado, Phoenix, 2:15 p.m.

The sun is shining, there's a cool breeze, and the Rangers have rounded up a couple dozen non-family members for Ed's Phoenix announcement outside the doorway of his campaign headquarters. Trouble is, no one noticed that the Mercado is directly beneath a flight path out of Sky Harbor International Airport. Every few minutes, a jet roars overhead, ruining TV and radio sound--not to mention the sound on Video Guy's tape.

But it's not the TV and radio reporters Ed Ranger needs to worry about. Clustered nearby, in a study of cool disdain and sunglasses, stand Phoenix's political savants of print: Michael Murphy (political reporter, Arizona Republic); David Leibowitz (Republic columnist); and Mark Flatten (political reporter, Tribune Newspapers). (Republic political columnist John Kolbe took a pass; he'd already picked Ranger apart in an earlier column.)

Jackie reads her, by now, pat introduction. The Candidate makes his speech: "Hoy," pause, pause. Then the cameras and the tape recorders and the notebooks and the reporters descend. A few feet from the podium, the midafternoon sun twinkles on the blond locks of the Ranger grandchildren as they eat Fun Dip. Meanwhile, Leibowitz and Flatten close in on Ranger, giving him a taste of what he can expect from the next eight months. The reporters set him up and knock him down with amazing ease.

Leibowitz: Why run for such a high office your first time out?  

Ranger: "In the United States Senate, we can do the greatest amount of good."

Specifics, please? Ranger says he supports education. He thinks the financing is screwed up. For some reason, someone asks, what does he think about the school finance bill in the Arizona State Legislature?

Ranger: "I'm studying the proposal right now."

Flatten: Why study that? It's a state bill. You're running for the United States Senate.

Ranger smiles. Sort of. "You guys are tough--I'm just out of the box here."

Flatten doesn't smile. At all. "It's a small box," he says.

Sweat is forming on Ranger's forehead. Does he think there will be an independent expenditure campaign as part of his election?

Ranger: "I haven't been approached by the unions."

Flatten: "Well, if they approach you, it's illegal."

After 20 minutes or so of the same, satiated, the media disperse. Ranger's still standing there, sort of stunned.

So, how was it? Ranger shrugs, looks away, plays with a button on his jacket. He disappears into the headquarters, which at this point is still an empty room with dirty carpet and a few falling-apart desks.

The Rangers still have to drive up to Flagstaff, for this evening's announcement.

Mark Fleisher, chairman of the Arizona Democratic party, has been bragging about Ed Ranger for months now. Fleisher's party is in a shambles, and there's the very real possibility that, come November, the Democrats will lose their lone statewide office. Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings is stepping down in January.

Fleisher needs a horse. So he's hopped upon Ed Ranger, despite Ranger's lack of experience, organization and the fact that the guy hasn't even lived in Arizona for almost a decade.

"I think McCain is in for a surprise," Fleisher says. "[Ranger's] got a good group of people; he's working hard at it. You know, he's got two law degrees. . . . I expect your article's going to be very much that he doesn't have a prayer, but I think he'll surprise a lot of people."

What about the fact that Ranger has never held public office?

"You get someone running with political experience, and then you've got a political hack, you know? I don't think people are ever satisfied," Fleisher says.

"You have to have mental attitude that you can win. And Ed Ranger has that attitude, that he can beat McCain. And everyone else that was interested in running had the attitude of, well, they'd never have a chance of beating him but they'd run a good race. Well, I like the idea that Ed thinks he can beat him."

Michael Tucker, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., echoing Fleisher, sounds positively evangelical on the subject.

"We are very pleased here at the DSCC to have someone of Ed Ranger's caliber running against the incumbent, uh, McCain--McCain, there," Tucker says in a phone message. "We expect McCain may run into difficulty as he proceeds with the fall election. Folks are beginning to wonder if, indeed, he is running for president in 2000. He was just in New Hampshire this week. And with Ed's commitment and his family's support, they represent one of the most driven and focused campaigns throughout the entire country." He goes on to praise Ranger's gee-whiz organization and its fund-raising capabilities--raising questions in the mind of the listener about the health of the Democratic party in general.

"We are very pleased with the progress shown thus far," he proclaims.

But to find a strong argument against Ranger, you don't necessarily have to talk to a Republican. The "official" positions of Fleisher and the national Democratic machine contrast starkly with the dismay expressed by local Democratic consultants and pundits, none of whom is brave enough to be named, for fear they'd lose business for bad-mouthing a fellow Democrat.

One Tempe Democrat whose political experience includes stints on Capitol Hill and in local Democratic congressional offices, as well as on local campaigns, has met Ranger several times.

"I was surprised that somebody who had been out of the country for as long as he had and who seemed to know as little about public issues as he does was thinking about running for the United States Senate," the Dem says.

The Dem, who says he knows Dick Mahoney well, can't understand why Mahoney would foist Ed Ranger upon the Arizona Democratic party.

He says, "The only thing I can think that Dick Mahoney would be doing in giving Arizona Ed Ranger is to make a mockery of the process that unfortunately didn't allow him to get elected [to the U.S. Senate in 1994]. . . .  

"Mahoney is a lot of things, but he isn't stupid. He was a tough campaigner and he had good ideas on significant policies and he wasn't afraid to voice them; he really went around the state and tried to use grassroots, old-fashioned ideas to get those ideas out. And Ed Ranger's exactly the opposite of what Dick Mahoney tried to be.

"And, of course, Dick Mahoney is someone who appreciates irony," says the source. "My only guess could be that he thinks it's kind of funny."

But this Dem doesn't see the humor.

"Barry Goldwater made his reputation by not always being right necessarily, but at least believing in something strongly and being able to explain fairly articulately why he believes what he believes. The thing that strikes me about Ed Ranger is that he doesn't seem to believe anything, and he certainly can't explain anything he might believe in."

Another anonymous Dem--this one has worked in Arizona and Washington Democratic politics since 1984--sums up his thoughts with a question: "Ed who?"

"Who is Ed Ranger? Where did he come from? Is he from Arizona? Has he been involved in party functions before? I mean, I wouldn't know the guy if he came up and punched me in the nose."

Last October, Ed Ranger traveled to Washington, D.C., for a three-day crash course in How to Run for the U.S. Senate. He met some real-live Democratic senators and got some tips about setting up a campaign office. "They were very encouraging," he says.

The most important piece of advice he got from the political hacks who ran the seminars: "To make sure that you're comfortable with your decision. Think it out. And be convinced that you're doing the right thing for the right reasons and then work hard."

To that end, Ranger says, he sat down and studied John McCain's voting record, to be sure he really did disagree with the senator.

"I decided that if I was in basic agreement with his record, there was no point in running," Ranger says. "[But] I found that I have basic philosophical differences with him."

Okay, what philosophical differences?

"On the environment."

Any specifics?

"Well, that's what I'm coming up with right now. I think a United States senator should take the lead on our air problems here in Arizona. . . .

"I was down on the border in Douglas and I was told that I can't drink the tap water because of polluted aquifers. And I know that there are a lot of sites along our border that need to be cleaned up. Those are a couple I'm going to start off with next year." (When he's elected.)

So what qualifies Ed Ranger to take John McCain's place?

He cites his experience running a small business. In Mexico. Also, Ranger says, "I'll be the only member of the U.S. Senate with any direct, hands-on direct experience in Mexico."

So what will you do with that?

"I think that's where a border senator can really take the lead to improve the relationship with Mexico on a vast array of issues that face the U.S. and Mexico." And so on.


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

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?

The Rangers feel that, so far, they've succeeded. The supreme compliment has registered on the Phoenix political rumor mill: McCain's people are getting worried. That means, more than anything, that this campaign is likely to get nasty.

Speaking of nasty, how's the press been to work with? Great! Ranger says. He did some bilingual interviews in Douglas, which was really fun.

But what about the media in Phoenix, home to the highest concentration of voters in the state? Did he see David Leibowitz's column the day after his announcement, headlined "Hopeful's candidacy is DOA"?

Yeah, he saw it. Ranger's voice is low. "That column really hurt my mother," he says. "You know, we all had such a good time that day."

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