Before September 11, there were seven of them. Seven candidates standing for major office who, at age 45 or younger, were a collective statement about the turnover in Arizona's political power.

There probably never had been so many youngsters clamoring to run the state before. And the sudden swarm of campaign signs from yuppies seemed like either a fabulous promise or a quiet death.

Here were seven reasons to believe at last that the era of Evan Mecham and his raving, graying followers could be over. Here also were seven reasons to wonder whether there could possibly emerge from among these pallid novices the strong national leaders and staunch pillars of respectability that Carl Hayden, Barry Goldwater, and Mo Udall have turned out to be.

After September 11, when all the votes from the primary election had been tallied, there still were five. Only Steve Twist, the forty-year-old protege of Bob Corbin, and David Eisenstein, the 38-year-old, Mecham-endorsed Republican, had been eliminated from the attorney general's race. They had succumbed to someone even younger, 36-year-old Grant Woods.

In every one of the races where it was truly young against old, youth won out every time.

Forty-one-year-old Georgia Staton defeated veteran attorney Dick Segal in the Democratic primary for attorney general. Fife Symington, who is 45, won out over Sam Steiger, Fred Koory, Ev Mecham, and Bob Barnes as the Republican choice for governor; Terry Goddard, the Democratic candidate who is so perennially fresh-faced that he seems younger than 43, crushed Dave Moss. Dick Mahoney, 39 and an altogether unconventional contender in the Democratic primary for secretary of state, beat the plodding incumbent Jim Shumway in a runaway upset that may have been the primary's biggest surprise.

Suddenly it was clear that the new wave of political influence in Arizona will not be replacing the old guard gradually. In fact, if Mahoney defeats Republican challenger Ray Rottas, the top three positions in the state will commence to be governed by the heirs apparent when the voting booths close on November 6.

Maybe it has happened this way as a mandate from the voters. After the public humiliation of the Mecham administration, after the terrifying spectacle of watching him try to steer his wildly smoking political vehicle toward the capitol again, perhaps nothing would do except for something completely different--a political landscape that is not only better educated and less idiotic, but simply new.

Maybe it also had something to do with sheer demographics. Arizona capitulates only reluctantly to trends, but even it could not hold out forever against the numerical onslaught of the baby boomers.

Whatever the reason is, a new political age is upon us. We are about to be lead by the Sixties kids, the generation that was once intent upon changing the world.

WHAT EVERYONE REMEMBERS best about the most visible Sixties kids is that they majored in college in the tools of anarchy--that they knew all about tear gas and smoking dope, commandeering administration buildings, melees with police, communal sex, and streaking their own blood onto university walls. ("Lenin won, Fidel won, we will win!" wrote the kids who rioted at Columbia, in literally blood-red letters.)

What the world tends to assume is that nothing mattered more to them than forcing the calcified Establishment to rethink America's involvement in the Vietnam War, and the senseless way it was treating minorities, the earth and finally, even women.

Many onlookers thought at the time, and still think, that there was nothing magical about any of this, notwithstanding the fact that Woodstock has already been written down in the annals of myth. These parents and observers were relieved that not every kid became a Sixties kid, and that even the ones who did cooled down in the Seventies. By the Eighties, large numbers of Sixties kids were piloting cars with prominent hood ornaments into spacious garages, and many critics sighed with relief and comforted themselves that everything was nearly back to normal. Many others, the lovers of the Sixties, have thought that the bygone era was a miracle of human development, and that it has been largely lost. Although they hope not. They hope that the ideals of harmony and human rights it stood for are burning still in an abundant number of hearts. They hope that the only thing the Sixties kids have really given up is the violence. They hope that, as the Sixties kids come to prominence, they will lead the world in a new way.

And will they? There's no one answer, not for the world and not for Arizona. This is a pretty complex thing, after all, the ferreting out of the major values of a new generation of leaders. There are lots of little answers, though. A few of them are noted here.

1. There is absolutely no reason to fear that Arizona is about to fall into the hands of nonconformists.

Without a single exception, all the young candidates still in the running for major office have turned out the way their parents would have wanted them to. In fact, all of them reflect their families' politics with eerie exactness; there is not a rebel among them, and none of them rebelled against family values during the Sixties, either.

Terry Goddard is literally following in the footsteps of his father, former Democratic governor Sam Goddard.

Grant Woods, the Republican candidate for attorney general, grew up in Mesa with Republican parents, and his father, builder Joe Woods, says that he and his son don't differ politically in any significant way today.

Georgia Staton, the law-and-order Democrat who opposes Woods, grew up in a family of moderate, Midwestern Democrats with law-and-order ideas.

Fife Symington's father was a rich, political Republican in the East who was a personal friend of Barry Goldwater's. Fife himself is a rich, political Republican in the West who is endorsed by Barry Goldwater.

Dick Mahoney, a lifelong Democratic activist, is the son of William P. Mahoney, one of the leading lifelong Democratic activists in Maricopa County. Dick is the sole member of this group who threw himself into anything like the classic scenes of political organizing that we associate with the Sixties, and yet, even in his case, it was a reflex. Terry Goddard, who has built an entire career upon the image of "activist," fully as though activism has been the consuming passion of his life, was not a reformer until he became involved in local politics and the gas tax referendum in Phoenix in the early Eighties. What he was up to at Harvard, from which he graduated in '69 and which was one of the more turbulent Ivy League campuses during the Sixties, was that he became a devoted member of the crew team. "That is pretty serious stuff," he says of crew. "My major concern was getting enough sleep and still being able to get to class."

There is no reason to disbelieve him, since this explanation for a lack of early political involvement from Terry Goddard, of all people, is just too silly for him to have made up.

2. There is absolutely every reason to fear that Arizona is about to fall into the hands of rich kids who will never be able to understand a working stiff's problems.

The rich kids themselves would prefer that everyone overlook this, however. They are positively scrambling to disavow that there is anything unusually moneyed or cultured about their backgrounds. For most of them, this is such a reach that it involves their entire bodies.

Georgia Staton, who is the daughter of a Midwestern carpenter and has nothing to deny, doesn't trip over herself rushing into assurances that she is nothing more than a normal person. Neither does Goddard, who has everything to deny.

Here are the equivocations that, during interviews, our candidates eagerly volunteered about themselves.

Fife Symington: "Ours was not a wealthy family in the sense of Dallas.
"I inherited a little bit of money, but not much. I built my business from the ground up. I started with a secretary. I have built it up since 1973, project by project. I have made 99 percent of the money that I have."

(Symington, a developer, is the great-great-grandson of Henry Clay Frick, who was a prominent steel industrialist at the turn of the century. Symington, an only son, grew up as part of the old-money establishment in rural Maryland. His father and mother were educated at Princeton and Barnard; he attended Harvard. Symington and his family thus far have contributed $600,000 to his campaign.)

Grant Woods: "My dad is really the Horatio Alger story. He went from a carpenter's apprentice all the way up through the construction industry.

"When I was growing up, we made the transition from a working class neighborhood to a better neighborhood, but it was still very middle class. He didn't start his own company until long after I left home.

"A myth people have about me is that there was money, but that is because my dad is successful now. My parents gave me the tools to succeed."

(Woods is the only child of Joe E. Woods, who owns one of the largest construction firms in the Southwest. He attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, an outstanding liberal arts university where fees and room and board currently run about $18,000 a year.)

Dick Mahoney: "My family might be called political aristocrats, but any description as social or financial aristocrats is terribly remote from the truth, and I am a manifestation of that reality. I was on work-study as a football player at Princeton, and I had a job throughout half of college.

"I have worked all of my life--as a painter, janitor, an electrician's apprentice in France, a laborer. I've been a member of a union. Dumb jobs. And I haven't worked out of any sense of noblesse oblige, but because I had to. And I continue to work as a candidate. I am not so sure that is the hallmark of an aristocrat."

(Mahoney is the son of a well-known local lawyer and politico and was one of nine children, all of whom were truly taught that materialism is an empty goal. The family lived comfortably but never grandly. They also lived internationally, perhaps most notably in Africa, where Mahoney passed his adolescence learning native dialects while his father served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. They were personal friends of the Kennedys. Mahoney was educated at Princeton and Johns Hopkins, and many of his primary personal heroes are poets, including Charles Baudelaire, whom Mahoney says stands for "fatalism and sensuousness.")

Terry Goddard: Standing slightly apart from this group of back-pedalers, Goddard had the grace to say nothing hugely self-deprecating about his background. He seemed to be rather proud of his background, actually.

And what a background it is. His great-grandfather on his mother's side was the Republican secretary of state in Illinois and one of two men who engineered the Wigwam Convention for Abraham Lincoln--whatever that was. His mother attended Wellesley and his father went to Harvard. Goddard himself attended Exeter, the Eastern prep school immortalized in John Irving's novel The World According to Garp, and his classmates there included Peter Coors and David Eisenhower. Later, he graduated from Harvard.

His father is a lawyer, a former Arizona governor and former chairman of the Democratic party who, by his own account, loaned $50,000 to the Democratic party a dozen years ago so that it wouldn't have to close its doors.

Goddard himself is a lawyer. According to an insider, he was, while mayor, repeatedly asked by a former member of the city council to "put things in language that we can all understand."

3. There is absolutely every reason to fear that Arizona is about to fall into the hands of a man whose life experiences have not sufficiently prepared him to hold higher office. Witness these accounts of the forces that have shaped them that were offered, without a moment's prompting, by the intimates of Goddard and Symington.

Father Sam said this about his son Terry, an unmarried fellow who has not had to worry much about earning a living and whose employment opportunities have exposed him primarily to secure, colorless bureaucrats: Terry was hardened at Harvard, by virtue of being on the crew team. Sam said, "He kept at it so vigorously and strongly. He learned about how you have to struggle and work very hard in order to do anything worthwhile."

In Symington's case, the thing that made a difference was lacrosse, his own sport at Harvard. It was lacrosse, apparently, that enabled him to relate more easily to America's wide variety of social classes. Says his friend Terry Considine, who has known him since Harvard, "He had friends from all walks of life in college, because he was a good lacrosse player. In the sports world, the only recommendation is how fast you could run and how hard you could hit. He has always been able to deal with backgrounds very different from his own."

Beyond this handful of generalities, then, are the new politicians similar, and do they hold values in common? Are they passionate reformers, as we might expect from the generation whose politics were stirred up so early?

Are they bored with reform, and fans of the status quo? Sometimes, they are a little bit of the former. Mostly, they are quite a bit of the latter.

And they are their own stories.

Even Arizona could not hold out forever against the numerical onslaught of the baby boomers.

By the Eighties, large numbers of Sixties kids were piloting cars with prominent hood ornaments into spacious garages.

All the young candidates still in the running for major office have turned out the way their parents would have wanted them to.

"That is pretty serious stuff," Goddard says of the sport of crew.

Fife Symington: "Ours was not a wealthy family in the sense of Dallas."

It was lacrosse, apparently, that enabled Symington to relate more easily to America's wide variety of social classes.

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Deborah Laake