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Donkey Kong

By playing to the center, Arizona Democrats can kick the opposition to the curb.
Joe Forkan

Dennis DeConcini was always a centrist Democrat, a "Pinto Democrat" as they used to be called here, but like many moderates in the party, he still felt a deep fondness for the intellectual and moral champions of the liberal cause. One such man was Phoenix attorney John Frank, among other things a leading legal scholar against segregation.

Besides respecting Frank, who died last year, DeConcini knew that Frank was the linchpin to his getting elected as and remaining a U.S. senator from Arizona.

As a moderate, DeConcini needed a voice from the liberal end of the party. Frank -- who first respected DeConcini's father and later gained respect for the senator himself -- gave him that support.

Which, in the late 1980s and early '90s, brought with it the support of a young feminist attorney named Janet Napolitano, a bright political and legal underling of Frank's at his politically powerful Phoenix firm, Lewis & Roca.

But at that time, DeConcini tells New Times, it was begrudging support.

"Janet was more of a true liberal then," DeConcini recalls, over breakfast at Tucson's historic Arizona Inn. "I'm guessing she supported me because John told her she had to support me."

Over time, though, as she ascended with the help of her mentors, Napolitano became more moderate. And over time, she became a centrist Democratic political force -- arguably more on force of personality than force of action -- who has helped reignite the Democratic party in Arizona and helped prove once again that Arizona does not fit its stereotype as a Republican sure thing.

These reinvigorated moderate Democrats are poised to make gains for the party in three critical areas of government:

Polls show Napolitano's popularity outpacing any potential challenger in the governor's race. Indeed, Republicans who have the public appeal to be serious challengers -- the likes of former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and ex-Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods among them -- have decided they have no chance against her. Riding a wave of popularity into a race with a Republican second-teamer, analysts predict, Napolitano will win in such a convincing manner that her position against the state's right-wing Legislature will be greatly strengthened.

National analysts have dubbed the U.S. Senate race in Arizona between Jon Kyl and Jim Pederson as one of the top races to watch in the country. Kyl's voter approval rating has consistently been below 50 percent. In another poll, only 46 percent of Arizonans said they would vote for Kyl even before there was a candidate announced to run against him. Kyl, analysts say, has made himself vulnerable with a voting record arguably to the right of even the increasingly unpopular George W. Bush administration.

That said, Kyl is still very powerful and likely will get support from Arizona's beloved moderate Republican senator, John McCain.

Pederson is a real estate developer who, as head of the Democratic party since 2001, has been credited with the party's renewed strength in recent years. He also was successful at getting the Redistricting Initiative passed in the state.

The problem here, though, is that the initiative has been a huge disappointment to Democrats. Basically, Pederson's initiative has failed in its intended purpose -- to make more of Arizona's legislative districts competitive.

Much more difficult for the Democrats will be making progress in the Arizona Legislature, which, analysts say, has been gerrymandered for 40 years under Republican rule to create districts hopelessly uncompetitive and left essentially unchanged by the Redistricting Initiative. The goal here is more defensive. Right now, Republicans sit three votes from a super-majority in both houses.

Republican leaders made it clear late last year that their goal in the next election is to make the Legislature "veto-proof" against the Democrat Napolitano. Also, if Republicans (primarily right-wing Republicans) get a few more seats in the Legislature, they could punch through tax legislation that might leave certain of Napolitano's programs unfunded.

"The idea of a super-majority led by the right wing in this state should be terrifying to the vast majority of Arizonans," says Democratic consultant Barry Dill. "This is a moderate state. And if we're not careful, it could soon be controlled by people who are completely out of whack with the people of the state."

Unlike in the 1990s, the state Democratic party appears to be much more poised to counter the Republican right. The dark days for Democratic politics during the decade before the turn of the century appear to be over.

Heck, even state Attorney General Terry Goddard found a way to win in 2002, which means that the two most powerful state officeholders are Democratic.

What Democrats will need to do, political analysts say, is understand and follow the Napolitano model, which is a replay of the DeConcini and Bruce Babbitt model, which is based on a knowledge of Arizona history, which is all based on a few core ideas about the Arizona electorate.

 

For one: Arizonans are, as a whole, much more moderate than their right-wing reputation -- and their right-wing Legislature -- would suggest. In fact, on statewide initiatives, voters have tended to be moderate and sometimes liberal. They voted to legalize medical marijuana, for God's sake.

To win statewide, a Democrat must be willing to show moderate, arguably conservative leanings on a few critical issues, particularly crime and the business community, but these leanings must translate as progressive to keep the traditional Democratic base happy.

Arizonans want to like their candidate. Voters here, according to pollsters and political analysts, are more likely to vote on brains and personalities, especially if they are moderates. There are many votes to be won from moderate Republicans and Independents if a likable, articulate moderate of whatever party appears on the scene.

Campaign hard early to win the early voting, as Napolitano did in 2002. And campaign hard, period, because once you've found a way to activate the center, you've won.

Though prospects for the short term appear brighter than they have in years for Arizona Democrats, the party's long-term health is more unsure. Those decades of clever Republican-led gerrymandering have almost assured an ultra-conservative Legislature for years to come. And without enough young Democrats in the Legislature (the minor leagues of state and federal politics), the Democratic party is chronically behind the Republicans in developing talent for the future.

But there are ways around the Legislature. And, as political analysts note, there are ways to change the Legislature so that it is more representative of the moderate politics of the electorate.

"The center is the key in this state," says Bruce Merrill, a longtime Arizona State University political pollster and analyst. "The Democrats as a whole seem to be better in tune with that fact. But the deeper issue in Arizona is one of legitimate representation. The system itself here is broken."

To win the center, Democrats would be wise to study their history. This shouldn't be hard, since two of the key players in making the party's successful recent history, Napolitano and Pederson, are the party's candidates for the two most important upcoming races.


Within the past few weeks, Bruce Merrill has received two calls from national political writers, one from the Christian Science Monitor, the other from the New York Times.

Both, he says, were under the assumption that Arizona is a rabidly and overwhelmingly conservative state.

"And that's not at all unusual," says Merrill, himself a moderate Republican. "We have an image of cowboys and Goldwaters and just very conservative politics on the national level. But reality is quite different."

You can't blame the writers for this perception. Until 1996, a Democratic presidential candidate hadn't won Arizona since Harry Truman in 1948.

But that 1996 win by Bill Clinton, and certainly Napolitano's gubernatorial victory in 2002 on the back of a stronger Democratic party machine, shows the truth about Arizona, Merrill says. The state's voters will pick a moderate of either party if they like the person. And in the past decade, the state has been flooded with hundreds of thousands of new potential voters who are just as likely to be Democrats as Republicans, and who are also just as likely to be Independents.

Indeed, Merrill says, polls show that a whopping 25 percent of Arizonans now consider themselves Independents.

Independent generally is a synonym for moderate. And their votes, if they can be energized to vote, could go either way.

But, in Arizona, they may not vote.

"You can have a primary in a new suburban area like Chandler and 10 people out of 500 will show up to vote," Merrill says. "The foundation political issue here is not whether or not Arizonans are moderate, it's whether or not those moderates turn out to vote, especially in the primaries, to reflect what's happening in the community."

Turn for a moment to the pages of Robert Dahl's little book on politics, A Preface to Democratic Theory. It could just as well be called A Preface to Arizona Politics.

Dahl, Merrill's professor at the University of Michigan, argues that there has never been a time in democracy in which the majority ruled. He says, instead, democracies are always ruled by "the intensely dedicated minority."

Such as the Arizona Mormon community, which creates a core for the religious right in the state. Mormons are a minority, but they are organized, unified, and they vote.

 

"The right wing of the Republican party has become the spokesman for preserving the Judeo-Christian values," Merrill says. "With Madonna kissing Britney, with Janet Jackson's breast, with gays getting married, [conservative Republicans] are going to get votes from the religious right."

The power of Dahl's "intensely dedicated minority" is magnified in Arizona's primary system. Average citizens, as Merrill puts it -- "the mom and dad in Chandler buried in two jobs trying to get the kids to soccer practice" -- don't make time to vote in primary elections they know little or nothing about. Without the money they can raise for general elections, the candidates can't spend as much getting into the average household with television and newspaper ads. Therefore, primaries are won in the churches and, on the other end, in the union halls, where large groups of likely voters move together toward one candidate.

In Arizona's Legislature, Merrill and other political scientists note, the problem is magnified. This is because the Republicans in power have gerrymandered legislative districts.

As districts have been redrawn, Merrill says, the vast majority are hopelessly slanted.

As it stands now, after 40 years of Republican control of the redistricting process, perhaps eight of the 30 districts are remotely competitive.

So, the Legislature is determined in the primary election, where what would otherwise be a fringe candidate can ride an energized minority to the statehouse.

This hurts moderates in both parties. But at least Republican moderates have a majority to work with in the state House of Representatives and Senate.

Through the 1990s, the state Democratic party appeared to wither under the seemingly overwhelming odds it faced in state races. The Democratic party, says ASU political historian and author Jack August, floundered with little guidance, little money and few strong candidates during what he labels the "Symington Decade."

In the background, though, was a cadre of strong and seasoned centrist Democratic staffers out of the offices of Senator DeConcini and longtime governor and presidential hopeful Bruce Babbitt. Guys like Barry Dill, Ron Ober and Dennis Burke all knew the lessons of being a Democrat in Arizona. They just needed stronger leadership, strong candidates and some money.

In 2001, wealthy businessman Jim Pederson provided the party both the money and leadership it needed when he took over as party chairman and put $2.5 million of his own money into the cause. And guys like Dill, Ober and Burke had a strong -- albeit unconventionally strong -- candidate for the key race for the governor's office in 2002.

"If things continue to roll for the Democrats, that will be seen as a critical moment in the rise of the party in the state," says August, also director of the Arizona Historical Foundation. "Several good things happened to pull off that win for Napolitano. And it all speaks well for the future for the moderate Democrats in the state."


Dennis DeConcini has the look of an elder statesman this day at the Arizona Inn, the historic Tucson resort hotel just a block from his home. Trim, silver-haired, suit, tie, handmade dress shoes. He will soon be off to the offices of the University of Arizona Press to sign off on the title for his new book, Senator Dennis DeConcini: From the Center of the Aisle, which he wrote with political historian August.

After a sort of 10-year hiatus from Arizona, during which he spent much of his time lobbying in Washington, D.C., and living in La Jolla, California, DeConcini is back. Not only is he finishing his book, he will now be serving on the Arizona Board of Regents, a political gift from Napolitano. As such, he is, in a way, reassuming his role as godfather of the state's middle-of-the-road Democrats.

Arizona has a history of storied Democratic leadership. Carl Hayden, the Udalls. But DeConcini held power for nearly 20 years in a different Arizona -- Barry Goldwater's Arizona. From 1976 through 1994, after a 1976 win that was more about the Republican candidate losing, DeConcini represented the state in the U.S. Senate the only way a Democrat could. He exhibited a firm understanding of and appreciation for the conservative power core of the state. He also realized that he had to throw the GOP a bone once in a while.

Arizona was, at that time, as conservative as the national press perceives it to be now.

"I do believe the state is different now," DeConcini says. "We've just seen so much growth. With all these new people, it's a different world for a Democrat."

DeConcini's idea is supported by census data. There are an estimated 800,000 more people here now than there were in 2000. And not only is Arizona's new Anglo population trending Democratic, the percentage of traditionally Democratic Hispanics is growing quickly. One in four Arizonans are Hispanic, up from one in five in 1990.

 

DeConcini was naturally a moderate, as much a product of his own philosophy as his upbringing. His father, Evo, was a conservative Democrat. Dennis DeConcini was raised Catholic, so he was by nature pro-life. Dennis' mother, though, had suffered numerous setbacks because of sexism, so that conservative stance on abortion was balanced with a strong record on women's issues.

"I sort of naturally compensated for that with the liberal side of the party," DeConcini says.

And that, he and others note, is the side of the party that runs the national Democratic organization.

Another key for DeConcini was his background in law enforcement. Arizonans will elect Democrats if they don't think they are soft on crime.

DeConcini was Pima County Attorney before his run for the U.S. Senate. At the time, Arizonans were more worried about drugs and drug-related crime. DeConcini created a statewide task force to combat the drug trade. He continued focusing on such issues once in the Senate, serving on the Judiciary Committee and becoming involved with U.S. Customs.

Voters aren't nearly as concerned about drugs as they were then, he says, except that the spread of methamphetamine has just begun to worry average citizens. Now, he says, the law enforcement issue is immigration. A Democrat, he says, needs to be strong on immigration issues to show he or she can protect Arizonans.

And if anything is still Old West about Arizona, it's that Arizonans still want leaders who can stand up to the criminals.

That's one reason DeConcini never gave Janet Napolitano too much thought as a potential Arizona political figure when he first met her in the early '90s. She was a gifted young attorney at the politically connected firm of Lewis & Roca, but she also was a liberal with no law enforcement credentials.

Within a few years, though, with some political manicuring by her mentor John Frank and from DeConcini, all that would change.


By 1991, Janet Napolitano, as a protégée of Frank's, was doing pro bono legal work for the Democratic party in Arizona.

That year, she also got a more high-profile assignment from Frank -- he put her on a team of attorneys to represent Anita Hill, who sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee for three days describing sexual harassment at the hands of a then-nominee to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas.

"For her benefit, for her exposure, John made sure that Janet was on the front line in that," says DeConcini, describing how Frank positioned Napolitano.

DeConcini was a member of the committee. To be sure, he says, Napolitano was no friend of his by the end of the hearings.

"She didn't like where I was going, she certainly didn't like the way I voted on Thomas," he says. "But I was definitely impressed with her."

The hearings were a watershed moment for Napolitano. Not only had she made a strong case for her client, and for herself, but the nationwide reaction to the hearings, and to Thomas' subsequent appointment to the Court -- even in light of Hill's testimony -- is regarded by many historians and political scientists as a turning point in the country's attitude toward women in government.

For starters, an unprecedented 29 women were elected in the congressional campaigns that followed the hearings, as well as a Democratic president.

After Bill Clinton came into office, DeConcini's chief of staff, Gene Karp, suggested that DeConcini put Napolitano's name in for U.S. Attorney in Arizona. DeConcini says he wasn't "so sure" about the idea. But they called John Frank, who told DeConcini "that would be a real smart move, and I'd never forget it."

That made the idea quickly seem like a great one to Dennis DeConcini.

The former U.S. senator remembers vividly his first key piece of advice to Napolitano:

"Be good to the cops."

Napolitano's critics can argue she took this advice too far.

On her last day as U.S. Attorney in 1997, Napolitano held a bizarre press conference announcing an agreement between her office and that of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The pact essentially cleared the sheriff of wrongdoing in connection with abhorrent practices inside the Maricopa County Jail, detailed in a Justice Department investigation, that had resulted in the deaths and injuries of pretrial detainees, including the infamous death of Scott Norberg at the hands of jail personnel.

Arpaio, a Republican, returned that political favor five years later with television ads endorsing Napolitano for governor.

 

As she ran first for Arizona Attorney General and then for governor, Napolitano began hiring many of DeConcini's staffers, such as Barry Dill and her current chief of staff, Dennis Burke, who also served as assistant U.S. Attorney General under Janet Reno in the Clinton administration, always in positions involving law enforcement and drugs.

Over time, DeConcini says, Napolitano herself has moderated and also become "keenly aware of how to lead this state."

"It's a centrist state and she knows that," he says. "She just has a very keen knowledge of how to lead effectively from that moderate stance."

Another key event during the otherwise dark '90s for Democrats was Bill Clinton's victory in the state in 1996. He was the first Democrat to win the state since Harry Truman.

DeConcini argues that Arizona probably could have been won in other contests if the national Democratic party didn't always concede Arizona as a Republican sure thing.

In 1992, for example, DeConcini went to Clinton asking him to come campaign here.

"I talked to Clinton and tried to get him to come out here, but his advisers said no, no, you can't win Arizona," DeConcini says.

Clinton didn't win Arizona in 1992 on his way to the White House.

"Some time after he was elected, Clinton changed on that. He told me he had it on his radar to win Arizona. 'I can win Arizona,' he said to me. And in '96, he did."

Clinton made several trips to the state. Voters responded to having a sitting president visiting their domain, showing them he knew where Arizona was.

And Clinton came with a message that was attractive to Arizonans, particularly regarding the fight against crime.

With his Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS, his plan to put 100,000 new police on the street, Clinton, like DeConcini before and Napolitano later, co-opted Republicans on their traditionally strong issues of crime and law enforcement.

"His COPS program was big, very big," DeConcini says. "He could come and say, 'Here are four cops for Tucson, 20 for Mesa, 50 for Phoenix.' People loved him for it. And here again was a centrist Democrat who understood the importance of law enforcement.

"To win on law enforcement, that completely co-opted the Republicans. They hated Clinton, but they couldn't do a thing."

Barry Dill, who ran the Arizona campaign for Clinton, refuses to take much credit for the victory. He said the win was more a product of actions in Washington.

"It took us six months to convince Clinton's people that he could win here," Dill says. "Then, the last three weeks, they started pumping money into Arizona. That was a huge deal because we have such meager budgets for campaigns.

"What we learned through that time is that there's a real yearning here, not for either party, but for somebody who is moderate who people just genuinely like. That's true for both sides."

Regarding the presidency, though, the Democrats have lately failed to give Arizonans a likable guy who could connect with voters, as Clinton did. Al Gore never connected, political analysts conclude. John Kerry definitely never connected.

Both had an uptight Eastern liberal aura that doesn't translate well in the down-to-earth West.

In Kerry's case, DeConcini says, it was difficult to get anyone very excited about the guy, even within groups that would seem a lock for him.

"He wasn't a bad guy, he just never really [got] people fired up about him," DeConcini says. "Kerry could have been the premier leader for the veterans. He voted that way, but he never took the lead. There was just this lack of passion about the guy on so many fronts."

Which allowed Dubya, who sat out the Vietnam War thanks to family connections, to do better with veterans than war veteran Kerry.

Which goes back to one of Bruce Merrill's key ideas regarding Arizona voters.

"They will vote across party lines for the right candidate," he says.

A DeConcini, a Napolitano. On the other side, a McCain, or somebody like former state Attorney General Grant Woods, the popular moderate Republican who seems content to stay away from elected office.

"This is not so much a party-oriented state. Outside of the extremes, it's more about who the candidate is," says Merrill.

The problem during the 1990s, analysts say, is that the Democrats didn't do a good job of getting the faces and messages of compelling candidates out to potential voters in that wide swath of moderate Independent and Republican voters.

When Jim Pederson became the party chairman in 2001, not only did he help the party define potential supporters among Republicans and Independents, he infused $2.5 million of his own money to get the information to those specific groups of voters.

 

Besides plugging in his own money, he also set records for fund-raising in his tenure as party chairman.

Pederson is unapologetic about his role in building a legitimate Democratic war chest.

"As far as my own money going into the party, I think it was the best investment I've ever made," he tells New Times. "You have to be able to raise money to compete. That's the reality. We created parity with the Republicans here. And that's going to pay off for the people of Arizona."

Indeed, analysts such as Merrill credit Pederson with (or accuse him of?) taking leads from Bush's Machiavellian political strategist Karl Rove, considered the architect of Dubya's unlikely rise to power.

Their trick: Identify specific groups of potential voters, say, female small-business owners or minority business owners, and target them with the candidate's specific agenda to help them. At the same time, you work hard early in the campaign getting these typically underrepresented groups registered to vote.

"Jim Pederson knew like Karl Rove knew -- it's all about counting noses and getting them to the polls," Merrill says. "Pederson got the party identifying its voters again, and he spent a ton of money to get them registered."

Also, Democrats might push to get a ballot measure this year that would ignite passions in certain Democratic and moderate voter segments. This, too, is a trick from the Rove playbook.

"Rove identified the 11 states he needed [for Bush to win], and he got the gay-rights question on the ballot to bring out the religious right in force. There's a lot to be learned there," Merrill says.

"Through the whole decade of the '90s, the Republicans were well organized, well funded and putting out good candidates," Pederson says. "We were not competitive. So we got the party back on its feet. And now we're moving forward."


Janet Napolitano won Arizona in 2002 because she drew voters from across party lines, particularly women.

"We made a very concerted effort to identify and target Independent voters, and also Republican women," says Dill, one of the most respected Democratic strategists in the state.

Napolitano succeeded, convincing 23 percent of Republican women to vote for her. She won the Independent vote 60 percent to 40 percent over her challenger, Matt Salmon, whom Democrats successfully painted as an out-of-touch right-winger.

This was accomplished by specifically targeting likely moderate voters outside the party, something that Pederson's reorganization of the party and infusion of money allowed, something Dill had successfully done in his 1996 victory for Clinton in the state.

"Because they have the numbers, our Republican brethren sometimes just blanket their constituency," Dill says. "We're always down, so we have to start thinking, 'Where can we make up the difference?' So we look to that one-fourth of the state that is independent and likely moderate. And for Janet, you looked to women."

Napolitano, he says, fit perfectly the profile of what Arizonans will elect in a moderate Democrat: "She's savvy, she has the toughness of the prosecutor (some would argue this is perceived, but perception is reality in politics), but she's also compassionate. If you can get this kind of a candidate in front of the vast majority of Arizona in the center, he or she will win."

This coming election, Dill says, Napolitano's campaign will try to advance on its support from Independents and Republican women. Dill says he believes Napolitano can win 20 percent of Republicans in the state, those Republicans who "are moderate and tired of the radical end of their party."

Merrill says there is no reason to believe Napolitano won't win by a much larger margin than she did in 2002. For moderates and Democrats alike, she is seen as their champion against the right-wing Legislature that would otherwise control the state.

For traditional Democrats, this fact has created something of an odd relationship with Napolitano. Many Democrats have trouble pointing to anything groundbreaking accomplished by the Democratic governor and former state AG.

For example, one of her key issues was the overhaul of Child Protective Services (politically speaking: tough on child abusers, compassionate for abused kids, progressive about rebuilding families). But like many of her tough, compassionate mandates, results have been sketchy.

Of course, the Republican right is always trying to water down or outright kill her plans.

Which, oddly, might be to her political advantage. Because in many ways, she is more appreciated by average Arizonans for what she stops the legislative right wing from doing than what she creates from the center.

 

Napolitano has vetoed three bills over the past year passed by the Republican-led Legislature to undermine programs for students learning the English language. Napolitano has made political hay at every turn, boldly announcing the absurdities of the Legislature trying to diminish programs that are mandated by a federal court order.

Ironically, Republican legislators are holding up DeConcini's nomination for regent over her English-language bill vetoes.

Also, just in the past month, Napolitano shot down numerous Republican state-spending measures, vetoing in one run House Bills 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

With her vetoes, she is most often keeping funding for state programs the right wing of the Republican party wants to ax.

Republican legislators have become so frustrated with Napolitano's vetoing of their state budget items they are now suing her for allegedly misusing her line-item veto power.

In addition, she is sitting in an enviable political position atop a giant state revenue surplus.

That said, Napolitano has shown the necessary toughness regarding drugs and immigration, analysts say, while gaining points from voters on issues such as all-day kindergarten, support for higher education, and her general support for what Merrill calls "the progressive ideas in the state."

Also, the bully pulpit of being the sitting governor is of particular advantage to a savvy, brainy political animal like Napolitano. That she has become the state's political 800-pound gorilla is no surprise to Dill.

"If I can get her in front of Arizonans for five minutes, she wins them over," Dill says. "She's just that smart, that appealing. Now she's out there all the time meeting these people as governor. On top of that, you've got her being rated one of the best governors in the country. Put this all together and she creates a very formidable candidate."


Jim Pederson will be a tougher sell than Napolitano. Janet, like DeConcini before her, is now a leader Arizonans know and like. And that makes elections much easier for a moderate Democrat in the state.

It probably doesn't help that Pederson is a real estate developer, the equivalent of a Republican candidate who spent his previous life as an environmentalist.

Then again, as Pederson tries to regain DeConcini's U.S. Senate seat for Arizona's Democrats, it's likely to be his pro-business credentials (like DeConcini's law enforcement credentials once did) that will help him attract moderates in the Independent and even Republican ranks.

To try to win DeConcini's seat back from Kyl, Pederson will be using much the same game plan he used to reinvigorate the state's Democratic party in 2001 and help Napolitano to the governor's office in 2002.

He will raise lots of money, something he was very successful at doing as party chairman. He will make use of the updated and improved voter file he helped create for the party to better target specific groups of voters. And he will pick apart Kyl on his Senate voting record, which, Pederson says, is grossly inconsistent with the beliefs of "this moderate state."

Pederson says, "My father was a Republican. He was a moderate, pragmatic man. If you look at somebody like Kyl, it's clear the Republicans have lost their core values. If my father was alive today, I'm quite sure he'd be a Democrat."

It's as though Pederson has made it a point, both in his work for Napolitano and in his own burgeoning campaign, to go after his father's moderate vote.

In the coming year, Dill and Merrill say, the key for the Democrats will be finding ways to get all those moderates informed and to the polls.

While Napolitano found success targeting women voters in the Independent and Republican ranks, Pederson will also target business-minded moderates who typically lean Republican "out of habit."

While the Republicans continue to beat their old drum of tax breaks, Pederson takes a decidedly moderate Democratic tone to his state and federal pro-business philosophy. The best world for businesses is a world in which Arizona's universities are cranking out lots of topnotch employees. And the best world for businesses, he says, especially businesses like shopping malls, is a world in which more people have more disposable income.

And to attract and keep those well-educated and financially secure people, you need to have a place where the air is breathable and the water, well, still exists.

Pederson -- like DeConcini and Napolitano and even Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon -- is gifted at couching old Democratic themes in moderate positions. What's new about a Democrat wanting stronger funding for higher education and student loans? What's new about a Democrat who is an environmentalist?

The key is to couch this vision of a brighter, smarter, cleaner future in terms that can be appreciated by those whose first priority is financial success or, more likely, financial survival. Student loans and environmental laws are actually a profit deal. Conversely, a healthy business community generates the revenue for building a better community, a smarter, cleaner, more culturally vigorous community. While the liberal may see capitalism as the root of evil, the moderate Democrat sees it as the strongest potential engine for good.

 

Austin, Texas; the Research Triangle in North Carolina; the Bay Area. These are the templates of success for the progressive moderate.

This plan, Democratic strategists argue, is rolling into action -- Jim Pederson style.

Pederson's campaign looks Republican out of the gate: Support the troops, honor veterans, attack illegal immigration, bring back fiscal responsibility.

On each point, though, Pederson co-opts these traditionally Republican strongholds with an argument from the center. Republicans, supposedly the party of fiscal responsibility, have boomed the national debt $3 trillion since 2000. They have cut back on services to veterans. They have constantly made promises to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, he argues, only to forget the issue once elected.

Then Pederson begins speaking from a more traditional Democratic stance while couching that talk in a more moderate progressive tone.

For one, he notes that global warming is real. Unchecked, he notes, not only will it destroy the planet for future generations, it will be bad for business.

And Pederson is not at all afraid to blast his opponent. Go to his Web site and you can read 20 stories on how Jon Kyl has voted to cut loans for students and health care for seniors, fought all sorts of reforms. The stories portray Kyl as a pawn of big-money interests such as pharmaceutical and oil companies and an enemy of the young, old, poor and middle class.

That's a lot of enemies.

"Kyl is actually quite vulnerable," Merrill says. "You can argue that he does not represent the moderates of this state. And Pederson knows what he's doing. That will be an interesting race."


Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is a Democrat, but he isn't. The Phoenix city charter says elections and city officials will be nonpartisan. But even if Gordon were the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, he is such a centrist pro-business Democrat that he looks like a Republican.

Like Napolitano, though, he wasn't always like that.

To drive home the point, he's got a picture of both Clinton and Bush in his office.

Gordon, like Napolitano, is a well-liked centrist. As such, he will very likely be a powerful candidate in statewide elections of the future.

If so, he will have learned much about the state by leading a nonpartisan city.

"At the city, solutions are always found somewhere in the middle," he says. "I think that would be true of the state if the state elections were set up differently."

Here lies the biggest obstacle to party parity in Arizona, a parity that polls suggest would better represent the people of the state. Within Arizona, analysts say, the legislative and congressional voting districts have been drawn in ways that favor Republican landslides at the same time the state's primary system favors candidates representing those "intensely dedicated minorities."

Says Gordon, "It's a moderate progressive state when the public gets to vote as a whole on an issue. It's only when it's skewed through the primary system [that] you see otherwise."

Voters attempted to address this problem in 2000 when they passed Proposition 106, which created an Independent Redistricting Commission with the goal of redrawing Arizona's districts in a way that better balanced each district between Democratic and Republican voters.

Most agree that has failed, an opinion supported by the fact that very few of the state's most recent legislative elections were competitive.

The membership of the commission won't be changed for another four years. And new census data won't appear until after 2010.

"Hopefully, in 2010, a new group will come in and blow up the way districts are drawn up in Arizona to make them competitive again," Dill says.

As it stands, in the Legislature, Republicans are only one House seat and two Senate seats from a super-majority, which would give them veto power over Napolitano and much greater control of the state's revenue streams. If this happens, even with a big win in her election, Napolitano often would be neutered by the right-wingers.

Another solution is to introduce a new proposition with a more comprehensive and workable plan for creating voter parity in the state.

"That's not out of the question," Dill says.

Until the time when the state's election structure better represents the state's electorate, though, the Democrats will have to continue along the Pederson, Napolitano and DeConcini model. Essentially, they will have to keep working harder than their opponents to prove to specific underrepresented groups that they are the moderate voice of progress in the state.

 

"We're a long way from it being easy for Democrats in this state," Dill says. "Right now, we're still battling from behind. But what we know for sure is that if we're smart and we're focused and focused on the center, we can win."


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