Doug Wead, the preacher-turned-politician who moved to Arizona last year looking for work in Washington, D.C., was one giant step closer to becoming a congressman.
It was a few minutes past 10 p.m. on September 8, and the early returns showed Wead well ahead of two opponents in the primary race for the Republican nomination in the new and sprawling Sixth Congressional District.
You couldn't spot any downtown Phoenix power brokers at Wead headquarters, a converted office in a downtown Mesa strip mall near the Mormon Temple. And it wasn't a place for the poor and the unwashed.
No, this room was packed with Weadites: bright-eyed, shiny people, uniformly white and well-groomed, most of them youthful. The drinks were soft and the language clean. Victory cigars? Nope. Pass me a diet soda. There were practically no lawyers, but there were plenty of present and future salesmen and housewives.
But the Weadites are far different birds from their ideological cousins, a native Arizona tribe known as the Mechamites: They have brains, political savvy, organizational skills and, probably most important, gobs and gobs of money--much of it from out-of-state Amway distributors hooked into Wead's particular brand of evangelical Christianity and charismatic capitalism.
It was time for a live interview on Channel 3. This was what Doug Wead had been waiting for. Arizona's newest and most mysterious big-time politician knows how the media work: One of his jobs as a senior staffer in the Bush White House was to set up dog-and-pony "opportunities" with Bush for reporters and the religious right. (He once told a graduating class at Oral Roberts University: "God didn't put you here to watch television! He put you here to be on television!)
The Channel 3 reporter, a dark-haired woman in a miniskirt, lobbed a softball at Wead about his Republican opponents Phil MacDonnell and Mike Meyer.
"You kind of get bonded with those other guys campaigning," Wead answered with a salesman's sincerity. "Bonded"?
The TV lady flashed her own big smile, as the hovering Weadites cheered their approval. But it wasn't quite over. News anchor Cameron Harper, trying to put at least a little journalism into the proceedings, had a question from back at the station about Wead's pile of out-of-state contributions.
Wead knocked Harper's query out of the park with a series of nice-sounding non sequiturs. His French-born second wife, Myriam, stood by his side with a wide smile on her lovely face.
A Weadite sidled up to the candidate after the live spot.
"Cameron's a Democrat," he said.
"That's all right," Wead replied. "I was ready for it."
Practically as soon as the TV lights dimmed, most of the crowd was dispersed to parts unknown. But the chief Weadites stayed behind to nibble on Myriam Wead's birthday cake and talk politics. On this night, at least, they sounded supremely confident that Mr. Wead will be going to Washington.
The old friend of disgraced evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker appears as ambitious as another out-of-stater who marched into Arizona in the 1980s--Senator John McCain. And the Weadites seem to be licking their chops at the idea of facing Democratic winner Karan English, a feminist and environmentalist, on November 3.
"It's going to be as clear a choice as you could ask for," said Doug Wead's brother Tim, a personable guy who once worked as an actor. "I just hope she doesn't get dirty."
You can bet that the Weadites will get a little dirty themselves. Like Matt Miller, a longhaired youth outside Wead's headquarters who stared longingly at the freshly scrubbed Weadettes inside.
"The girls in there are pretty cute," he said of the handful of Weadettes in their early 20s floating around the room. "Maybe I could meet one of them."
Miller said he had spent much of the day playing a guitar across the street at the Practice Pad Music Store. The ax wasn't his. Miller says he had to sell his guitar for food after a recent run-in with his father.
He insisted he voted for Doug Wead earlier in the day. "This country needs a change," he said. "He's the right guy for the job. He stands for the right things."
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And what things are those?
"You know, pro-American stuff," Miller replied. "Cleaning things up."
Miller, who said he was thinking of joining the festivities, pointed a finger at the front of his sleeveless tee shirt, which was adorned with silk-screened marijuana plants.
"This is my 'pro-Wead' shirt," Miller said, giggling. "I think I'd better go home and put another shirt on."