Symington's Empty Boasts and Lost Hopes

Earlier that evening, J. Fife Symington III went on television. He seemed superbly confident as he quipped that Evan Mecham was like a schoolyard bully who needed a punch in the nose.

Leon Woodward, one of Mecham's staunchest supporters, was startled by Symington's boast. Woodward picked up his phone a few hours later and called Symington's home.

The call was taken by Symington's wife.

"Tell Fife," Woodward said politely, "that if he wants to punch Mecham in the nose, he'll have to come through me. Tell him also that I'm six feet two inches tall, weigh 250 pounds, and I've never lost a fight in my life."

Woodward hung up the phone and thought no more of the call.

In a little while, the police arrived at Woodward's door.

Symington had reported that he'd been threatened with assault by Woodward.

"I wasn't threatening assault," Woodward told the police.

"I was only announcing that I was committed to protecting Evan Mecham from being assaulted. The only threat being made to commit assault was Symington. He's the one who's talking about punching Mecham in the nose." Woodward insisted that if anyone should be taken into custody it should be Symington, who announced on television that Mecham was a candidate for a punch in the snoot.

The policemen recognized immediately that the situation was an impossible one for law enforcement.

It all was sheer politics. And no one can ever figure out what will happen next in these situations.

For example, who could have figured that in this stage of the governor's race that the candidate with the biggest personal fortune would be the one hurting most for money.

No one in Symington's camp will admit it, but it's now apparent that Jay Smith, his high-priced Washington political adviser, has deserted the ranks.

Smith, who previously worked in the successful campaigns of Republicans John Rhodes and John McCain, charges big fees and he doesn't stick around when the checks are late. Symington has run out of money. People inside his campaign office say that the campaign already is $30,000 in debt.

The Fuji Bank reportedly has called in one of his real estate loans, and Symington was forced to divert some of the $300,000 of his own money which he had set aside to run his campaign.

For Symington, the crunch is on.

With just eight weeks left before the primary, it soon will be imperative for Symington to begin an intensive television advertising campaign if he hopes to win the nomination. Symington already has spent more on television advertising than all the other candidates combined. The spots have given him name recognition but, curiously, they have not given anyone a real reason to vote in his favor. Symington also has spent more money on investigating the other candidates in the race, looking for weaknesses to exploit.

Despite all this, the polls still show that Symington is running with the pack rather than taking a commanding lead.

Symington's poll figures really show that the pollsters are making phone calls to people who sit home and watch television all the time. These voters now have a vague idea who Symington is. They have seen him on television in some context. They remember that he's not as offensive as Andrew Dice Clay or Pat Buchanan.

That is the general perception of Symington. He is a vague presence that no one can define.

All anyone really knows about Symington is that he created the Esplanade project on the southeast corner of Camelback and 24th Street that features the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

When Symington was pushing for its construction before the Phoenix City Council, he promised that it would be world class when finished.

There was to be not only the hotel but also some of the glitziest stores in the country in residence.

Where are the glitzy stores? Where are the parking spaces for the vehicles of anyone who wants to shop there?

Symington's Esplanade simply doesn't work on any level. The project has that in common with Symington's current campaign for governor of Arizona. That's not working either.

Oh well, running for office and losing are something of a tradition in Symington's family.

Symington's father, who lived in Maryland, ran for Congress three times and lost every time.

It should not be surprising that a man who grew up on a 500-acre estate in the Maryland Hunt Country would have trouble connecting with the ordinary voter.

To Symington, people who drive pickup trucks and wear jeans are part of his work force.

It is one thing to be able to instruct the working class how to mow the lawns and repair things around the mansion.

It's a distinctly different thing to ask them to vote you in as their governor.

It is this social spread that is at the root of Symington's inability to excite the voters. They sense that he has come down from the mansion to instruct them and they instinctively resent him.

And not even a million-dollar television campaign can change that perception.

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Tom Fitzpatrick

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