Craig Columbus
Craig Columbus
Kevin Scanlon

Needle in the Hayworth

The Spike recently stumbled across another good reason (like we need one) to trade in J.D. Hayworth for someone who actually has a lick of sense. Turns out the Republican congressman is hawking "official" J.D. Hayworth schlock on his campaign Web site.

Like the Official J.D. Hayworth T-shirt. At $15, it's the "Perfect apparel for campaign events!"

Or the Official J.D. Hayworth Lapel Pin — "This sharp looking pin looks great on a lapel [duh] or shirt collar" — for 5 bucks.

The Spike is guessing that the Official J.D. Hayworth himself might also be for sale. Federal campaign finance reports filed on March 31 (the latest available) show Hayworth has already raked in more than $800,000 for this year's election, much of it from financial, insurance, construction and health industry interests. (Sorry, no total available for schlock.) Hayworth has raised considerably more cash — hundreds of thousands of dollars more — than any other incumbent Arizona congressman.

Sounds like the man once ranked number one in Washingtonian's "No Rocket Scientist" category is worried. He should be. Hayworth is a dim bulb, and the Democrats have a couple of bright lights in the race this year.

The Spike had lunch with one last week. Craig Columbus is a 35-year-old businessman who seems better suited to Silicon Valley than Scottsdale. But The Spike is all for Arizona venturing into a new era, and it's a world in which Columbus seems very much at home.

This is a guy who's spent much of his adult life working with two of the key elements of the new millennium — technology and money, and The Spike's not talking about a Web site campaign cash register. Columbus started a software business called Scorelab, which, in a Cinderella story that's become almost a cliché of the past decade, he soon sold to somebody a lot bigger and (presumably) made a ton of moolah. Now he's the new company's chief market strategist.

Columbus is a smart and personable guy who years ago caught the attention of Wall Street and the business community. Since 1998 he's been a regular commentator on the national CNBC Power Lunch program (every Monday at 10:20 a.m.). The Spike figures he's better known outside Arizona than in his own district.

The Spike met Columbus for the first time at Kincaid's, a power-lunch spot in downtown's relatively new Collier Center, a vortex of the New Economy, or as close as it comes in Phoenix. Columbus could hardly get a bite out of his once-gourmet chicken sandwich (he held both the bacon and the cheese), so eager was he to talk about Arizona's need for a lot of things, like a knowledge-based economy, economic leadership, light rail, and a sharper focus on universities and the role they can play.

Basically (and The Spike was noshing down the artichoke-and-crab sandwich here), Columbus wants to wean the state off its dependence on tourism and real estate development and create more middle- and high-wage jobs through building a solid technology industry. That would lead more of the state's young people to stay in Arizona to strengthen it rather than hightailing it out of town as soon as they get their high school diplomas.

Columbus has a 3-year-old son (Peyton), and he says his worries about the kid's future in Arizona was one factor that convinced him to run for Congress.

Another was his father, who died recently from Alzheimer's disease. Learning to care for an aging and ill parent hit him at about the same time he was learning to care for an infant.

He scrapes a tomato off what's left of the chicken sandwich and cites statistics that demonstrate the "graying" of America — 45 million Americans are at least 48 years old, and health care costs are rising rapidly as more older Americans need more care.

"So I thought, of all the times for someone who comes from a background in the economy to go into public service and make a difference, now is the time," Columbus says. "This is the time for serious expertise to get our economy firing on all cylinders to deal with this."

"For me, there's a lot of principle in doing this," Columbus says. "It's not wide-eyed optimism, and I certainly don't need the money. I think there's a place to make a difference."

He muses that he's kind of like the old Edith Wharton poem — he's not the candle that spreads the light but the mirror that reflects it. "I realized I'm the mirror, because there are so many people out there who want to have a voice in the process, and I'm communicating their hopes and dreams."

Swoon. Sounds like The Spike's kind of guy.

Slap. Wake up, Spike. Columbus has raised about $45,000, including $20,000 of his own money and $10,000 from a recent fund-raiser. While that's still more than the other Dem in the race, Scottsdale business consultant Larry King, the reality of politics is that money talks — through TV and radio spots, direct-mail campaigns and all the other ways in which candidates get their messages, and their names, before voters.

Being an Information Age kind of guy, Columbus plans to put technology, which is still relatively cheap, to work for him. He'll send out audio campaign messages via e-mail, a voter-outreach technique he says has never been done in a political campaign.

Columbus concedes that the quest for campaign cash is a tough one. Still, he's hopeful that once contributors (i.e. PACs and business interests) start paying more attention to the race, they'll support him. He argues that businesses will be more likely to help him because he understands capital markets and the needs of business.

The Spike is thinking that once voters in Ahwatukee, Tempe and Scottsdale realize that Hayworth is now their congressional rep, they'll run — fast — to someone else. Yes, that's right, boys and girls. The redistricting changes you yawned through put you in the "new" District 5. Many of you used to be represented by Jeff Flake, in what was called District 1.

Who knows. Maybe Columbus has a chance at a wondrous new world that doesn't include Hayworth. (Has The Spike mentioned that J.D. has been returned to Congress by voters every two years since he first was elected in 1994?)

The last time this part of town shifted congressional boundaries, a Democrat was elected. So does anyone remember Sam Coppersmith?

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