It was a sweltering August day in 1966, and two young lawyers were hiking deep within the Grand Canyon. Jon Kyl and Tom Kleinschmidt--both promising associates with the Phoenix firm of Jennings, Strouss & Salmon--had spent the night camping near the Colorado River, and now they were heading home, moving steadily up the rugged, isolated Kaibab Trail toward the canyon's South Rim.
As midday approached, the pair began to realize they hadn't brought enough water--in fact, they only had one small canteen, and it was almost drained.
Kleinschmidt, now the chief judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals, remembers the scene:
"We were young and inexperienced, and didn't realize how important fluids were in that kind of heat," he says. "I really began to feel dehydrated. I wasn't at all sure I was going to make it.
"Suddenly, I looked up and saw that Jon was gone. He had charged ahead and left me there on the trail, with no water."
Kleinschmidt, growing dizzy with the onset of heat exhaustion, pushed on by sheer force of will. "I nearly died that day," he says solemnly. "No exaggeration; I nearly died on the trail."
In the immediate aftermath of the ordeal, Kleinschmidt says, he was "very irritated" with Kyl. But almost three decades of professional and personal familiarity with his hiking partner have mellowed the memories.
"Jon and I have known each other for 30 years," Kleinschmidt says, laughing, "and I realize now he didn't mean any harm.
"It's just that he probably believed that I had come in [the canyon] of my own accord, and so I had a responsibility to get myself out without anyone's help. Jon really believes in personal responsibility, you know.
"Plus, he's a dedicated, hard-charging hiker. The one thing you've got to remember about Jon is that he likes to get to the top of the mountain, and he likes to get there first. No matter what sacrifice.
"No matter what."
@body:Jon Kyl was born and bred to be a climber.
The son of a U.S. Congressman from Iowa, Kyl, 52, was raised in a solidly middle-class family whose every emphasis was on public service. "It was very important to dad that we recognize that even though we weren't rich," Kyl remembers, "we still had an obligation to get involved and give back to the country."
After high school in remote Bloomfield, Iowa--a hamlet in the southeast corner of the state--the young Kyl enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he was a whirling dervish of activity, involving himself in debate, fraternity politics and a host of service organizations. Then, without missing a beat, he went on to the UofA Law School, where he was an academic standout and editor of the law review.
From there, he followed a traditional path to power, joining Jennings, Strouss--a growing firm that played a vital role in the land deals and power politics that fueled Phoenix's big economic bang in the 1970s.
Kyl started out as a litigator, but, according to other lawyers in the firm, the rough-and-tumble of the courtroom wasn't his cup of tea. So he moved into zoning law, where he was well-positioned to meet some of the biggest real estate barons in a state in which land is lifeblood. Then he became a lobbyist for Salt River Project, helping the mega-utility have its unimpeded way with the Arizona State Legislature for more than a decade.
And in 1986, drawing on connections and access to campaign money nurtured at Jennings, Strouss, it was on to Congress, where he championed every high-profile, right-wing cause from the Strategic Defense Initiative to antiabortion legislation, becoming a darling of the conservative establishment.
The next step in this conventional staircase is supposed to be the U.S. Senate, specifically, the seat held by the retiring Dennis DeConcini. Kyl isn't a senator yet, you understand--he's got to make it through what will assuredly be a down-and-dirty November election battle against one of two likely opponents, Democratic U.S. Representative Sam Coppersmith or Arizona Secretary of State Richard Mahoney.
But Kyl has no opposition in the Republican primary. Polling shows him to be the clear favorite to win in November and become, in the process, one of the most influential men in Arizona for a long time to come, given the state's tendency to keep incumbents--especially Republican incumbents--in office.
While Kyl rests confidently on the cusp of power, however, it has become equally clear that he is something of an enigma; Arizonans know precious little about him, other than his bare-bones biography. They know little about Jon Kyl, the man. He's given us few clues.
Perhaps that's because the image of Kyl, the candidate, produced and packaged for the campaign, is so very different from the truth about Kyl, the real person.
He is portrayed as a Washington, D.C., outsider, but is really the consummate inside man. He adheres to a puritanical ethical code while urging federal regulators to help some of the worst S&L raiders in the country. He is an independent thinker--whose independence has been compromised by a flood of contributions from PACs and special interests. He is a man of the people who hates to meet people.
And he is a dedicated conservative ideologue who seems to be compromising some of his most-dearly-held beliefs in the pursuit of power.
Kyl and his aides limited New Times' access to the candidate, providing only brief opportunities for interviews. Kyl suspected, one campaign aide says, that the newspaper was "out to get him."
When Kyl was available, he was willing to talk about defense policy, immigration, welfare reform and other wonkish topics, but he was extremely reticent when it came to painting a picture of himself, his life or his past. For that, you have to go to those who know him best.
@body:Traditionally, the men who represent Arizona in the United States Senate have been a colorful bunch.
There was Barry Goldwater, the scion of a rich, old Arizona family who became a pilot, adventurer and, eventually, the godfather of the modern conservative movement, charging up the steep hill of presidential politics waving the flag of extremism in defense of virtue. Before him, there was Carl Hayden, a Western icon who started his long life ferrying settlers across the then-raging Salt River in Tempe when Arizona was just a territory, and then represented the state in Congress for 50 years.
More recently, there's John McCain, a silver-haired war hero who came home from Vietnam to marry a beautiful heiress and sting the political establishment with his legendary acid tongue.
But now, perhaps, we will have Kyl--who fits this eclectic tradition about as well as a nun at a fraternity party.
Kyl doesn't have any hobbies, other than hiking--for him primarily a solitary activity. He doesn't collect anything, or crave chocolate or fried foods. He doesn't smoke, drink or kiss women (other than a polite public peck on his wife's cheek, that is).
There is no graft or overwhelming greed in his past, but no notable acts of honesty or compassion, either. He's not known for a witty turn of phrase, flamboyant clothes or any other kind of distinguishing mark or excess. Kyl isn't too much of any one thing.
The only vice he has, longtime observers of his career say, is power. To that intoxicant, they note, he is an unreformable addict.
Mike Flood, a partner in Jennings, Strouss who attended law school with Kyl, says it was apparent even at UofA that Kyl had a dominant political gene.
"Jon was always very political, always very active in Republican activities and very serious about them," Flood says. "I think he always had it in his mind that he would go to Congress, and maybe the Senate."
However, Flood describes the young Kyl, pictured as a somber, bespectacled Student Bar Association officer in the 1965 UofA yearbook, as an unlikely politician.
"He was friendly, but never overly outgoing," Flood says. "I mean, he was very inner-directed, very oriented toward his family. And he hasn't changed much in 30 years. Jon knows a great many people, and he's well thought of, but he doesn't have very many friends."
It's true. Among Kyl's "longtime associates," few will identify themselves as close comrades. Of dozens of firm members, campaign workers, classmates and fellow politicians interviewed about Kyl, almost all referred New Times to others whom they believed were more intimate with the man. Eventually, the endless referrals became a circle, coming back to just one name.
Only Kleinschmidt, despite his brush with desert decomposition, calls Kyl "a friend."
"Jon is very free of vices," Kleinschmidt says, "and one of those vices is close personal contact. His family is very important to him. I don't know how many personal relationships he has outside the family."
People like Kleinschmidt describe Kyl as a man driven by twin engines--extreme conservatism and equally extreme competitiveness. In Arizona business and political life, that should be a winning combination. But Kyl is hamstrung, observers say, by his reserved, even cold, demeanor.
John Christian, another Jennings, Strouss partner who says he knows Kyl as well as anyone at the firm, says Kyl's "distance" from people is his Achilles' heel, both as a candidate and a person.
"I've counseled Jon many times, both as a partner and as a politician, that he should let the empathy and decency that we know is in him out more," Christian says. "He tends to not be very approachable."
It's a personality that makes him appear impatient, intolerant and even bored on the campaign trail, and leaves the impression that he has an aversion to making contact with the unwashed masses.
Kyl, when asked if he feels that his people skills are a political weakness, provides, in reply, proof that they are.
"I think I connect well with people," he says woodenly, staring at the floor. There is a long pause.
@body:Others within the firm remember how Kyl, as a partner, would drive secretaries and interns to tears, should they misspell a word in a legal document or spill a cup of coffee in the hall.
"Around the firm, he sometimes came off a bit unforgiving," Christian admits. "It's too bad he can be like that, because overall, he is a man of the highest personal integrity, with a fanaticism for playing by the rules and being in control of his emotions."
Control. It's a word that comes up time and again with Kyl. Christian says he hasn't ever seen Kyl do anything that betrayed an "impulsive or playful" side of his character.
But in analyzing Kyl's life, one gets the sense that there are passions lurking beneath. There are signs, if you look closely.
There was the red Corvette his fellow lawyers noticed he purchased early on in his tenure at the firm, a nod to a lifelong fascination with racing. There's the stack of speeding tickets Kyl admits to accumulating through the years, the result of a penchant for getting from point to point in the fastest possible way.
Most of all, there is hiking; relentless, manic hiking. With Kyl, hiking stories are legendary.
"I climbed Mount Baldy with Jon once," Christian says. "We drove all night to get there and started up about 5 a.m. By the time I got to the top, exhausted, there was Jon, fit and rested, ready to head back down.
"The guy's idea of a great vacation is to head up to Glacier National Park and hike for ten straight days. Everyone would be exhausted, but not Jon. He just can't stop moving."
Flood sums up the perception of Kyl among those who know him best: "He's a dedicated lawyer with few other interests, besides policy and government. There aren't many witty anecdotes about Jon. Life is pretty serious for him.
"He's just a guy who is extremely bright, dependable and committed."
These are all qualities you look for in a good dog, and, presumably, in a U.S. Senator.
Although he may be a walking lexicon of traditional virtues, how does a stern, insular man with few friends, with a personality as flat as the Iowa plain from which he came--this monument to bland ambition--get elected to the U.S. Senate?
Easy, say Kyl's campaign aides. It's simply a matter of making "bland" synonymous with "virtue."
"The man is simply incapable of deceit or unethical behavior," says Robert Glazier, Kyl's campaign manager. "It just doesn't enter his mind to be dishonest. You can disagree with Jon about issues, you can say you don't like him personally, but you can't criticize his ethics."
Kyl echoes the theme. "I'm not a Washington guy," he says. "I can't believe the way they do some things there . . . I want people to realize that when they send me to the Senate, they're sending an Arizonan, with common interests and beliefs, just like them."
The common-man approach has been the essence of Kyl's campaign persona since his first race in 1986, and it isn't a bad strategy. After all, in an age in which the chairman of the House of Representatives' most important committee is under indictment for petty graft, and when the alleged sexual indiscretions of a president from Drop Pants, Arkansas, have become a national obsession, the fact that Kyl is a control freak, has few friends and can't drive 65 almost certainly won't register on the scandal meter.
But some believe this effort to portray Kyl as a Washington, D.C., outsider, a sort of virgin prince--immune from the corrupting forces that lurk within the Washington Beltway--is just so much hooey.
Sam Steiger, the talk-radio host, political analyst and curmudgeon laureate who doubles as the conscience of Arizona conservatives--and who served with Kyl's father in Congress--warns that Jon Kyl isn't what he would like to appear.
"He's become the worst kind of politician, the kind who talks a mean game but does the opposite," Steiger says. "Washington tends to do that to you unless you are firmly grounded. But Kyl is firmly rooted only in himself."
Don't buy the carefully crafted image of Kyl as freshly fallen snow, Steiger says, chuckling.
"Maybe he hasn't held up a Circle K, or stuck his fingers in the public cookie jar," he says.
"But otherwise, his behavior in Washington really isn't so different from all the rest."
@body:It's a clear, February morning at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and Kyl is weary. His daughter, Kristie (the Kyls also have a son, John Jr.), has just given birth to a boy in Washington, D.C. There were complications, and the baby had to be rushed back to the hospital on his first night at home.
Kyl and his wife, Caryll, were up with the family most of the previous night and day, before catching the redeye back to Phoenix. Now they must fly again, this time to Yuma for a midweek campaign swing. Nevertheless, Kyl has his game face on, and he takes an opportunity to turn a personal trial into a public point.
"I hate to think what might have happened if the little fella had been living in Canada," Kyl says of his grandson. "With their health system, he would have had to wait for care for weeks. And Clinton wants to turn our health system into something like that?"
Kyl looks down at a newspaper the reporter is holding in his hands, a recent New York Times, and suddenly switches gears. Tapping his finger on a story about disgraced S&L plunderer Charles Keating, Kyl grimaces.
"This is what is wrong with government," he says. "Keating was a symptom of a disease, where politicians allow big-money people to get away with the farm. There has to be renewed integrity among our representatives, because people have lost faith in them because of things like this Keating business.
"What they did in helping Keating," Kyl says, referring to the so-called Keating Five, "was absolutely wrong. Unarguably wrong."
Kyl often takes swings at the Keating Five, a group of senators that intervened with federal regulators in an effort to derail an investigation of the developer's beleaguered and bankrupt Lincoln Savings and Loan. Several times on the campaign trail, he has been heard mocking their "betrayal of faith," especially in reference to DeConcini.
"That's not the kind of senator I want to be," Kyl says.
On one level, it's a gutsy move, because by attacking the Keating Five, Kyl runs the risk of alienating his primary political patron, McCain--who was implicated as a member of the Keating Five, albeit as the peripheral member of the quintet.
McCain has supplied staffing, guidance and valuable connections to national money men for Kyl's campaign; as such, McCain is a sugar daddy who cannot be trifled with--especially in regard to painful memories of a scandal that many believe destroyed McCain's chances for a spot on a presidential ticket.
But the impassioned criticism also rings hollow because of Kyl's own questionable involvement in the S&L mess.
New Times has learned that in the summer of 1988, during his first term as a congressman, Kyl tried to secure a failed S&L for some of Keating's closest cronies. Kyl wrote a letter to the governmental entity then responsible for cleaning up the mushrooming S&L debacle. He wanted federal regulators to allow an Arizona-based company, Emerald Homes, to acquire and recapitalize a failed Texas S&L, Paris Savings and Loan.
Paris had played a long and checkered role in the S&L saga; the thrift had served as the "junk S&L" for notorious savings-and-loan raider Don Dixon (it was reportedly where he dumped his millions in bad loans). The S&L was also linked to the Iran-contra scandal by federal regulators, who suspected that cash in the arms-for-hostages network may have been laundered through it in the mid-1980s.
Once Paris collapsed, the feds came in to mop up what few assets remained and to search for a new, reputable owner to reestablish the institution. Kyl wanted that owner to be Emerald, and said so in the letter, which urged regulators to give the company prompt consideration.
What was the freshman congressman's interest in the affair? For one thing, Emerald and its president, Philip J. Polich, were frequent and generous contributors to Kyl's campaign. Emerald and Polich had donated $3,350 to Kyl in the months leading up to the letter, including a $625 contribution the day before the letter was written.
If Kyl had been able to see into Emerald's future, it's doubtful he would have thought the contribution large enough to buy his influence.
According to a federal lawsuit filed against Emerald in 1992, while the company was trying to land Paris, with Kyl's help, it was also participating in the largest S&L fraud in American history.
Regulators charged that Emerald was given a $25 million loan from Lincoln in 1987 to purchase property near Phoenix from Keating's American Continental, the parent corporation of Lincoln. The chain of paper transactions was a prime example of "book cooking," by which American Continental's holdings could be made to appear larger than they actually were--a fraudulent move made to throw federal regulators off the scent of corruption within the Keating empire.
In other words, Kyl was trying to put the same people who had helped Charles Keating pull off the biggest S&L rape in America back in the saddle at another victimized S&L.
Emerald's request to buy Paris was turned down, and the government later sued Emerald for $80 million for its role in the Keating affair. The company settled with regulators for $10 million in June 1993.
It's unknown whether Kyl had any inkling of how deeply enmeshed Emerald was with Keating. And had he known, one has to wonder whether he would have cared. Keating was also a major contributor to Kyl's campaign.
Kyl did not respond personally to questions about Emerald, but the campaign did issue a written response.
"Until it was brought to his attention by the New Times," the statement reads, "Jon Kyl was totally unaware that the campaign had received a contribution from an officer of Emerald Homes at roughly the same time that a letter was written to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. As a result, the campaign has returned the contribution."
The statement goes on to say that Kyl knew of no connection between Keating and Emerald, and that the letter was merely a "routine status check" on behalf of a constituent, Emerald.
Ann Freedman, a spokesperson for the Resolution Trust Corporation, the company set up to clean up the S&L mess, notes that Kyl's letter was "one of many written by congressmen and senators during the period."
"That kind of pressure was commonplace then," she says. "Everyone was doing it."
Perhaps. But the fact that Kyl did it, too, demonstrates that, rather than being above the fray in Washington, D.C., Kyl has often been at the center of the storm. There are other examples, as well.
Kyl has a political touchstone that he returns to in almost every speech and public appearance. It is a belief in the need to cut government spending.
Yet in 1992, Kyl spent more than any other representative save one on office expenses. The total, nearly $1 million, was $200,000 more than the average.
Kyl also spent more than $260,000 in 1991 on "free" mailings to constituents, all paid for by taxpayers. The inconsistency is seen as significant by more than a few conservatives.
Steiger, who, in his role as a columnist for the Prescott Courier, has crusaded against Kyl, blasts the Senate hopeful for "talking like a fiscal conservative, but blowing the only budget you really have control over, your own office budget."
"All those mailings are just political. He's one of the worst offenders at spending public money to further his own political hopes."
Kyl spends plenty of private money, too. Kyl has amassed a war chest of $2.3 million for the Senate campaign, a sum he began gathering more than four years ago. Raising that kind of cash, one of the highest amounts compiled by any member in the history of the House of Representatives, takes dedication.
One of Kyl's congressional aides says that "nothing takes a back seat, either while he's campaigning or while the House is in session, to fund raising."
Kyl, the aide says, spends three to four hours per day--every day--raising money. There are large gaps in Kyl's Washington, D.C., schedule, usually in the afternoon, when he can be found in a room filled with telephones near the Capitol, provided by the Republican party, in which congressmen can stop by for a bit of fiber-optic fund raising.
He's also missed several votes in Congress to fly back for fund-raising events in Arizona this year.
Kyl admits the fund raising "takes too much time."
"It's unpleasant, because I can't spend that time on public policy," he says. "It's one of the reasons I'll be glad when the campaign is over.
"But even the Founding Fathers knew that money was a factor in politics. It's just another aspect of campaigning, and I'll never apologize for it."
But Kyl's critics say the time it takes to raise the money is not the issue. They say the very act of accepting so much money from so many different sources--many of them PACs and special interests--puts Kyl in an inherently compromised position.
He has, they point out, accepted nearly $70,000 from defense-related contractors--while sitting on the powerful House Armed Services Committee. While opposing health-care-reform packages, he has taken nearly $70,000 more from health-industry groups that have a financial interest in seeing reform defeated. The list of special interests that have donated to the campaign is an inch thick.
In an effort to put a positive comparative spin on the barrel of PACs that have given to Kyl--a group that includes everyone from ham packers to dental hygienists--Scott Celley, a former aide to John McCain now working on the Kyl Senate bid, complains that 41 percent of Sam Coppersmith's contributors are, horror of horrors, lawyers.
"We can certainly see what kind of special interests Sam is beholden to," Celley notes, ignoring the obvious irony: He is bashing lawyers while working, hammer and tong, to elect one.
If Kyl's S&L connection, his profligate office spending, the tax issue and his manic fund raising prove nothing else, it is that Kyl--the son of a politician and himself a professional lobbyist, power broker and congressman--is hardly a neophyte when it comes to the inside ways of Washington, D.C.
Republican supporters privately admit as much, but say that what's really important about Kyl is not whether he has been tainted by Beltway shenanigans, or become too closely tied to PAC money, but that he is a genuine, committed conservative, with impeccable right-wing bona fides.
"Everyone who goes to Washington gets involved in some stuff that looks bad," says one longtime Republican activist. "But voters [in Arizona] don't care about that. What they care about is that Kyl is Mr. Conservative.
"He is as committed, as devoted, to right-wing principles as any man alive. And that's what is going to get him elected. You've got to respect his commitment, his sincerity in his beliefs.
"Ideologically, he's pure; the real McCoy."
In recent months, however, Kyl has begun a strange slide toward the political center that calls such an assertion into question. There is a price to be paid for a seat in the United States Senate, and, in Kyl's case, the cost may be the beliefs closest to his heart.
The hike to the top of the Washington, D.C., heap is getting harder all the time.
@body:Kyl has spent a long day on the hustings in Yuma--shaking hands, kissing babies and networking with the town's solidly conservative Republican majority. On the campaign trail, Kyl is serious and intense, giving his traditional GOP message the polish and professionalism of a low-key secular sermon.
From radio station to television studio to Rotary Club meeting, he sounds the same themes time and again: Cut the budget. Get government off our backs. Put more criminals in jail. Tighten up border restrictions.
At a "Backyards and Living Rooms" meeting (the moniker given to a series of intimate gatherings held in the private homes of supporters), Kyl is addressing a group of shell-shocked citizens that thinks the wave of immigrants across the nearby border is threatening to submerge its town in crime and increased social spending.
He quickly and expertly touches the right nerves.
"I know how you feel," Kyl sympathizes. "You don't want to send these people packing, say to them, 'No, you can't have your babies here,' but you can't support the whole world, either.
"I know, and I understand. We've got to put more forces on the border to curb immigration. I hope that from the Senate, I can help you with your problem."
There is a murmur of assent, smiles all around and enthusiastic applause at the end. Yuma is Kyl Country.
Toward the end of the mind-numbingly long day, Kyl is set to address the Yuma County Republicans at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner, an annual confab of local party faithful held at a hotel just off Yuma's main drag.
It is an old crowd, and blue hair and cheap bourbon fill the room. There is rubber chicken and canned corn on the red-white-and-blue-bedecked tables. An elderly man in a white, Kentucky-colonel-type suit stoops behind the podium, warming up the attendees with a few jokes (Oh, that Bill Clinton . . . where is Lee Harvey Oswald when you need him, anyway?").
Pleased with his own wit, the man grins and urges the crowd to sing along with another fellow, who is strumming a guitar and crooning a painful ditty about the joys of familial cow milking:
Give another udder to your brother,
Give another udder to your mom . . .
Kyl sits on the dais, shifting uncomfortably and picking at his food, keeping his eyes fixed on his plate. Unlike the "Backyards and Living Rooms" program, in which he can connect with voters individually--much the way he dealt with Phoenix movers and shakers as a lobbyist, one-on-one--large crowds seem to make him uncomfortable. The barn-dance atmosphere is also obviously alien to a reserved man who has built a life for himself in patrician circles.
Finally, it is Kyl's turn to speak, and he bounds over to the podium amid rousing cheers: "Here's to Senator Kyl!"
Kyl makes a few brief remarks about Abraham Lincoln, and repeats the campaign bromides. Then the floor is opened up for questions.
An ancient woman clad in a shawl and wearing a long strand of pearls shuffles to the microphone. In a bold voice, she asks: "Isn't it true that before he got shot, Lincoln was planning on sending all them blacks back to Af-ri-ca? I heard that he really didn't think that much of em, and that's what he was going to do." There is an affirming rumble from the crowd, and someone hollers, "That's what he should have done!"
The woman peers up at Kyl expectantly, as does the rest of the crowd.
Kyl winces, jerking back from the podium as if shot in the forehead. He pauses for a long moment, staring down at his notes, and then smiles weakly.
"Well," he says, "I've read a lot about Lincoln, and I've never heard that." He cuts the Q&A session short, thanks the crowd and walks back to his seat.
Later, in the car, on the way to yet another evening campaign event, Kyl shakes his head, remembering the question. "You just want to grab people like that and shake them, and say, 'Don't you realize how that sounds?'" he says. "It was an ugly thing to say. But what are you going to do? She was an old lady . . ." His voice trails off.
"And we need her, and those like her, to win."
Kyl needs a lot of people to win a Senate race. And he evidently believes that persuading them to vote for him is going to require a hell of a lot of compromising, both personal and political. Just as Kyl did not feel free to chide the bigoted woman at the Lincoln Day Dinner because of his need for an electoral fix, he also seems compelled to vacillate on some of his most-fervently-held beliefs in an effort to win.
It wasn't always this way.
During Kyl's four races in Arizona's strongly Republican Congressional District 4, he didn't need to be anything but himself--Mr. Conservative. In CD4, races often turn on the issue of which candidate is a better Christian, and the more to the right a candidate moves, the better his odds.
Launching his first campaign with the stirring revelation that he was responding to a "calling from God," Kyl went on to establish himself as one of the most conservative lawmakers in the nation.
From voting to fund the Nicaraguan contras to his very public support of beleaguered former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, Kyl has spent eight years out in front of the conservative movement.
Roll Call, in a ranking of all House members, last year listed Kyl at No. 421 (with No. 434 being the most conservative) on a scale with notable personalities as points of reference. Kyl was just a little to the right of Rush Limbaugh, and a smidgen to the left of Jesse Helms and Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
One of his closest friends in the House is archconservative leader Newt Gingrich, and Kyl is a pet of Paul Weyrich, founder of the ultraright Heritage Foundation, which pumped money and support into Kyl's congressional bids.
Now, however, Kyl is treating his impressive conservative rsum like a poor relation, distancing himself from his right-wing roots.
A close associate of Kyl, who asked to remain unidentified, says that political advisers have counseled Kyl that he "must moderate a bit or lose."
"He knows he's got to do it, but he hates it, every second of it," the associate says. "Jon's really a very principled guy." He pauses.
"But not so principled that he won't do what it takes to win."
The compromising of Kyl has manifested itself in a number of ways, but nowhere more noticeably than in his position on abortion.
Kyl has long opposed abortion except in cases of rape and incest, or to save the life of the mother, and he has sponsored a constitutional amendment that would make that position law.
When Kyl launched his first campaign in 1986, he made frequent impassioned references to "abortion as killing." The campaign even featured literature paid for by Right to Life, featuring a picture of a young, adorable girl and the charge that Kyl's opponent, pro-choice Democrat Phil Davis, would have preferred that the child "would never have been born."
Kyl felt so strongly about the issue that in 1988, he broke ranks with fellow Republican officeholders and issued a rare endorsement of a state legislative candidate before the fall primary, rankling a number of other GOP legislative hopefuls.
The candidate was Trent Franks, who is, perhaps, the most-outspoken antiabortion partisan in the state.
Berry Sweet, communications director for Arizona Right to Choose, cut her political teeth working for Davis, and against Kyl, in 1986. Now, however, she thinks Kyl is trying to dodge the issue--and his record.
Sweet says that at a recent "Backyards and Living Rooms" meeting meant to lure Democrats over to the Republican side, Kyl was asked whether comprehensive health-care legislation should include mandatory funding for abortions. Kyl, Sweet says, mumbled that "there shouldn't be abortion in the health package, because there shouldn't be a health package."
"I was shocked," she says. "The old Jon Kyl I knew would have taken the opportunity to denounce abortion as murder. But now he clearly wanted no part of it. He's moderating the message for a more diverse, statewide audience."
Kyl becomes visibly agitated when discussing the subject.
"My personal view is that abortion is wrong," he says, his voice rising, "but as a political issue, it's just not very important. I'm a big-tent person as far as this issue is concerned, you know.
"I think," he says, waving his hand dismissively, "that this subject has about as much relevance to my campaign as what my favorite color is."
There is a reason for his evasion. Though Kyl is still the clear favorite, Coppersmith has been closing in, and a recent Frederick/Schneiders poll reports that Kyl's "extreme" abortion stance made 73 percent of those surveyed "feel less likely" to vote for him.
Though it is highly dubious that abortion will decide the race--it hardly ever has a decisive impact on Senate elections--Kyl and company are worried enough to start equivocating on an issue that he said in 1986 was "a fundamental, close to the heart."
So, too, is Kyl edging away from the religious right. After declaring that he had been ordered to run for Congress by no less than God Himself, and after aligning with Weyrich, Gingrich and other paragons of the ascendant Christian political front, Kyl, these days, acts like a halfhearted acolyte.
He says he is a Presbyterian, but admits he isn't even sure what the church's stand on abortion is. "We don't attend very often," he says, shaking his head mournfully. "We've been very busy." Other questions about his faith, he adds, "aren't important." End of discussion.
Kyl isn't just running from his past; he's also trying to remake the present--specifically, his current reputation as a congressional misogynist.
Clutching poll numbers that some staffers admit show him with abysmally low support from Arizona women--even those of GOP affiliation--the Kyl camp has launched a flurry of "initiatives" and press releases aimed at shoring up the candidate's relationship with the opposite sex by touting him as a "defender of women's rights."
Kyl recently sponsored a Sexual Assault Prevention Act, which would toughen punishments for sexual offenders, and a bill that would help protect battered women in the military. He's also made a point of showing up at a number of House hearings on domestic violence.
But opponents like Sweet claim Kyl is merely jumping through hoops necessary to win the election, and can't make up for his record.
"The guy is on the record as voting against everything for women and children his whole career," she says.
She has a point. At one time or another, Kyl has voted against Head Start, the Republican alternative to the Family Leave Bill, and the Child Welfare Bill of 1992--which would have started a fund to help abused and neglected children by levying a surtax on millionaires. He even voted against establishing federal standards for mammography testing.
Opposing any or all of these things is intellectually defensible--since Kyl opposes almost anything that would cost the federal government money. But to vote that way, and then claim to be a knight in shining armor for women, waving a proactive legislative sword in their defense . . . well, it just doesn't add up.
A close associate of Kyl laughs and shakes his head when discussing the "woman thing."
"Let's be honest," he says. "Kyl doesn't really care all that much about these issues. Jon cares about the military, the economy, big-picture things. Not women's issues. That's squishy, lefty stuff.
"You've got to remember, he comes from the tail end of a generation that believed the man worked and made money while the woman stayed home and made babies.
"Put it this way: He reads Tom Clancy, not Gloria Steinem."
Such comments strike a nerve with Kyl, as does very public criticism of his record on women from Coppersmith, a former director of Arizona Planned Parenthood who seems to be structuring his entire campaign around the issue.
"[Coppersmith] tries to portray me as insincere on these issues," Kyl says, "and it really ticks me off. I know what is in my heart, and I know I care. No one else knows those things.
"You can criticize my positions, but when you start criticizing my motivations, well, that is the one thing that really makes me angry.
"God, it does make me angry."
It seems Kyl has been angry quite a bit lately. Staffers tell of a candidate uncomfortable with the gritty requirements of a statewide race--the constant ideological tempering, the need to endlessly press the flesh in Arizona backwaters. His lone-wolf, aloof psychological makeup makes him more suited to a coronation than an election, they say.
"He's never had to campaign like this before," says one campaign insider, "and he despises it. He does it because he has to, but Kyl is a guy who feels like he's paid his dues, and should be given the Senate seat by divine right. The whole campaign is making him testy."
Plus, there hasn't been any time for a hiking getaway this summer. The only mountain that matters these days sits in Washington, D.C., topped by a big, white dome.
"I feel like I'm trapped sometimes," he complains. "There's never enough time to do what I want to do."
Although he says that, overall, he is "feeling good and working hard," Kyl exudes the signs of a deeply unhappy man.
@body:The morning after the Lincoln Day Dinner, Kyl is making last-minute rounds of Yuma businesses, meeting and greeting, stumping for votes. One of the last stops is a machine shop, with dozens of Mexican workers toiling in the yard out back.
Kyl and his entourage move toward the men, smiling and gesturing for them to come meet the "next senator from Arizona."
But the workers, many of whom are probably illegals, see only tall, white men in suits--who clearly, they believe, have come to check their green cards. They move away quickly, some bolting over the fence and into a field next door.
Kyl stands bewildered, his arm extended forlornly. Finally, his eyes fix on one worker who has remained behind, fiddling with a tractor motor. Kyl approaches, and the man eyes him suspiciously. He lowers his wrench and offers a greasy hand to the candidate.
"Hi, I'm Jon Kyl, and I would like you to hire me."
The worker smiles awkwardly and nods, returning to his work. Kyl looks around for someone else to meet, but the yard is empty. He quickly returns to the car.
As the door slams shut, the frozen smile that is Kyl's constant companion on the campaign trail melts away, and for a brief moment, he reveals a little bit of real, unguarded self.
"Oh, God," he says, sighing and rubbing his temples. "I do wish this would be over." He slumps against the headrest and closes his eyes.
You can see him thinking. How many more times will I have to shake hands with poor schleps who don't even know my name? How many more times will I have to bite my tongue, to keep from saying what I really think?
How high is this hill, anyway?
You're Jon Kyl on the campaign trail. You're not what you seem to be, not what you want to be. But in the time-honored tradition of dedicated hikers everywhere, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
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