The panic is on. They see his chances slipping away. This time, Terry Goddard may not even make it through the Democratic primary. Less than a week before Democrats go to the polls to pick their candidate for governor, Goddard is limping badly. There is no excitement. He has no direction. He remains surrounded by the same political coterie of insiders and self-seekers that has been at his side for years.
Goddard's plight and theirs is the same. If Goddard can't win this time around, his political career is finished. This will be his last hurrah. And if Goddard loses, his followers can kiss their prospects of high-paying jobs in the Governor's Office goodbye. They might as well turn in their BMWs before the finance companies come calling.
Nothing in his entire campaign spotlighted Goddard's hapless strategy more than his debate on Channel 8 last week against fellow Democratic foes Eddie Basha and Paul Johnson.
Johnson came across as totally focused and even a little ruthless.
Basha seemed like a totally decent big businessman.
Goddard, on the other hand, seemed much too clever and much too desperate to please all comers. He seemed ready to make any deal to win votes. At the same time, he showed evidence of being pathetically out of touch with the political realities of the day.
Goddard reminded me of someone.
Washington Irving once wrote a story about a man named Ichabod Crane, an ungainly, gawky schoolmaster who resembled "some scarecrow from a field." Ichabod Crane's efforts to win the hand of Katrina van Tassel, the fair maiden, are foiled by his rival, Brom Bones, who masquerades as a headless horseman and frightens the diffident schoolmaster out of town.
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a peculiar parallel to Goddard's predicament. Like Ichabod, Terry seeks the fair maiden. But he has reached a point in his political career when he can't afford another defeat. For this reason, he operates in a vacuum of fear and is too easily frightened. He cannot afford to offend anyone.
This is why Goddard's entire campaign has turned listless. Fearful of speaking his mind on any substantive issues, Goddard has become a candidate who will take any stand to please his current audience. As a result, he seems to stand for nothing.
Goddard has been virtually frightened out of town by Johnson, who rides about speaking his mind on everything. Johnson is not posing as the headless horseman, but the aura of the fearless surrounds him. While Goddard has constantly shifted his feet and his stance, Johnson freely speaks his mind no matter what bloc of voters he may offend at the moment.
Johnson's daring campaign has probably alienated some voters. But they weren't going to vote for him, anyway. At the same time, he has endeared himself to many undecided voters who can't stand politicians who sit on the fence.
With his cautious, almost cowardly approach, Goddard has avoided offending his friends and campaign contributors, but he has failed to excite them, either. Even his supporters wonder what extinguished Goddard's fire.
It may be that he has been waiting for the general election and J. Fife Symington III, who beat Goddard like a drum the last time around. Goddard went into that race against Symington four years ago with a 40-point lead and actually lost.
He entered this primary race against Johnson and Basha with a huge lead, too. Now, as they head down the final days, it has turned into a horse race in which Goddard has totally lost momentum.
Strangely, Goddard also resembles another of Washington Irving's classic fictional characters, Rip Van Winkle. Rip Van Winkle meets up with a group of dwarfish little men in the mountains and shares a keg of liquor with them. He falls asleep and does not wake again for 20 years.
He awakens a bearded old man and walks back to town to find that the portrait of King George III has been torn down and replaced by one of George Washington. He is totally out of touch with the present.
That's the way it is with Goddard these days. He has been surrounded by political dwarfs for years, and still is. He also seems to have been asleep on some mountain ever since the day he walked out of the Phoenix Mayor's Office to run for governor the first time.
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Where has the old Terry Goddard been? What has he learned about the art of leadership? He seems to have lost all the political promise he once possessed. It is almost cruel to point out this fact, because Goddard is not by any means an evil man. He has just turned into one who seems incompetent, self-seeking and a bungler. The first time Goddard ran for mayor, he was a new face and a potentially positive force. Every time he made a speech, it caused ripples of excitement. At that point in his career, he was climbing onto the political stage at precisely the right moment. Those were the days when young Sam Coppersmith was Goddard's volunteer driver. An old-time political hack, Margaret Hance, a Republican, was leaving the Mayor's Office to take a soft job offered her by the Reagan administration.
Goddard got his big break because the Republicans picked Pete Dunn as his opponent in the mayoral race. Dunn was young, but a premature stuffed shirt.
So when Goddard won that first race for mayor, we all cheered. Here was an attractive, energetic young political figure whose star appeared to be on the rise.
Sadly, that shooting star has disappeared from the sky. You watch Goddard as he debates Johnson and Basha these days and wonder what happened to all that promise. What mountain has Terry Goddard been sleeping on? Why did he allow the headless horseman to turn him into a political eunuch? How did his political career go so terribly wrong?