Longform

Stealth Zealot

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"Here's an example," DeConcini offers. "If Luke Air Force Base needs new housing, but the committee of jurisdiction to build housing doesn't authorize it, his position is it's a done deal. But I [would push for] $25 million for that anyway. The key here is this: That money will not go to reduce the federal deficit, it will go [to a project in some other state]. To make a specious ideological argument that you're reducing the deficit by not taking the money, and then let that money go elsewhere, is just bad for Arizona."

This point is bolstered by the fact that Kyl stepped down from the Senate Appropriations Committee to join the Senate Finance Committee.

Appropriations is the plum assignment for any "bring home the bacon" senator. Finance, which essentially handles broader federal taxation issues, is the plum for big- or small-government ideologues.

Kyl, however, says this argument is bogus.

"I have done very well for Arizona in my positions," he says. "From funding to make our forests healthy again, to helping the Indian tribes with their roads and medical needs, to meeting the challenge of illegal immigration, I'm in a very strong position to help the people of Arizona."


In 1986, Jon Kyl was on the verge of becoming a partner in his powerful law firm.

He would have become a very wealthy man.

But that year, Eldon Rudd announced he wasn't running again for Congress at the same time Jon Kyl's children were reaching maturity. Like his father, Kyl decided it was time for him to dedicate his life to public service.

"He sat down with his wife, Caryll, who really is his partner, and decided it was time," says Bob Fannin, his longtime friend and adviser. "I know for a fact he gave up a lot of money to do it. He could have been a rich man. But he decided this was more important."

For the next 20 years, Fannin says, Kyl has been tireless in his efforts to shape U.S. policy "in what he sincerely believes is the best interests of the country."

"It's difficult to fully state how important he's been for this country. He reads everything. He is the man who understands policy as well as anyone in Washington. Because of that, people go to him as the expert on crafting legislation and getting things accomplished. He won't say it because he's so humble, but he really is one of the critical figures in Washington right now."

Fannin thinks so much of Kyl that the former party chairman agreed to be the senator's campaign finance chairman.

Between Fannin and Kyl, the fund-raising potential is almost limitless.

"Oh, my," says political analyst Bruce Merrill. "It could get crazy. Kyl is extremely powerful, and there will be a lot of extremely powerful, wealthy interests who don't want to see him go. He will be able to raise whatever his people believe he needs to raise."

In other words, the Arizona senator will probably have the wealthiest campaign coffers and most expensive campaign in the history of Arizona politics.

But Jim Pederson, his opponent, is actually rich. And Pederson proved in his guidance of the party through the Napolitano and Goddard races that Democrats and Independents are willing to throw money at the party if Jim Pederson throws his money first.

"It will be a very well-financed race on both sides," Merrill says.

For his part, Kyl does not seem to be taking the challenge lightly. His schedule is already divided between senator time and candidate time, with the weekdays usually spent in Washington and the weekends usually spent raising money and talking to groups of well-wishers.

What Kyl may need to do, though, is venture outside his comfort zone, something he has seemed loath to do in his 20 years of public life. He preaches well to the choir at Republican fund raisers, he is a whiz in policy debates or negotiations, but he seems ill-at-ease in front of television cameras or mingling with crowds of nonpartisan Arizonans.

This self-imposed isolation -- especially from the news media -- has taken a toll.

For a two-term incumbent, Kyl is almost laughably unknown to most Americans and to many Arizonans.

For example, in one ASU poll conducted by Merrill, 97 percent of Arizonans knew who John McCain was.

In the same poll, only about 55 percent of Arizonans knew who Jon Kyl was.

"He's the other senator," Merrill says. "While McCain is this dynamic guy who probably understands the power of the media better than anyone, Kyl is just the opposite. He doesn't seek notoriety, and he doesn't get notoriety. And I just can't say for sure how much that fact is going to hurt him in a race with a truly legitimate candidate like Pederson.

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Robert Nelson