The Dark Horse Is Closing

One of the great Arizona political upsets is in the making. I'm talking about Claire Sargent's steady march to become the first Arizona woman to win a seat in the United States Senate. There are several elements, all equally important to her charge to the top. First, she is an intelligent, attractive campaigner who actually believes a senator should represent voters and not international business conglomerates.

Second, there is the fall of George Bush. A third element is the return of Evan Mecham. Last, but not least, is a severe voter aversion to the scandal-tarred John McCain. So don't believe the polls that show Sargent trailing McCain. Those polls don't factor in any of the above volatile elements.

Do not, above all, sell Claire Sargent short. It's obvious the wily McCain hasn't. Despite his bravado, McCain understands that in this year of the woman, the only woman in Arizona likely to vote for him is his own wife.

Sargent's strengths are rooted in her quixotic, unconventional approach. She is that rare politician who doesn't take herself too seriously and yet has a genuine respect for the average voter. For all of the above reasons, there's been a steady movement building for Sargent. You may think that because McCain fills the television slots with slick ads each day, he is therefore winning the campaign.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Each time the average voter sees one of those self-glamorizing views of McCain, he wonders, subliminally, when they are going to run a little drama showing McCain's connection to Charlie Keating and the great savings-and-loan scandal.

McCain burrowed himself so deep in that sleazy affair that it cost him nearly $1 million in legal fees to get himself off the hook before the Senate Ethics Committee.

The memories of those hearings and of Keating remain current events to the average voter in this state.

To them McCain is just another political whore. Just because McCain got lucky and didn't have to go to jail is no reason to send him back to the Senate for another six years.

McCain can pour a million dollars from his bottomless campaign chest, but the mental picture of him as a crooked politician will remain. In fact, the more television time he buys, the more the voters will be reminded of where that money came from.

Sargent has no campaign money to speak of. She is running on courage, wit and a belief that people deserve honest, intelligent representation. Quietly, she continues to build her constituency as the campaign moves toward its close.

Disregard the polls you see in the newspapers and on television. They have little to do with reality. Here in Arizona, the polling crews are generally run by incompetents who do little more than sample their neighbors. They are as capable of spotting a genuine political trend as our weathermen are of sensing the approach of a rain cloud.

And don't be swayed, either, by the incredibly slanted coverage Sargent is being subjected to by the local press. Now that there has been a decent interval, the local political columnists have renewed their shameless love affair with McCain. This development is depressing, but hardly surprising. To the Pooh-Bahs of the local editorial pages, it is as though McCain's lucrative dance with Charlie Keating never took place. Look in the Arizona Republic or Phoenix Gazette these days and see if you can find a word by a staff writer about the thousands of dollars in donations or the free airplane trips and vacations McCain took from Keating.

That McCain did Keating's bidding for those years has now become something nobody mentions. It is like the crazy aunt being kept in the basement.

McCain's two terms in the House and one in the Senate have been spent amassing the largest war chest possible. While doing so, he has voted with the special interests consistently. He has been a man for hire. McCain's success has come from prostrating himself before the military-industrial complex and the big drug and medical interests. If McCain's backers believed he was so far ahead, it would be unnecessary to fill the airwaves with commercials. And if he were far ahead, the local editorial writers and political cartoonists wouldn't feel it necessary to pile on Sargent. The truth of the matter is that they know McCain's in danger and they couldn't stand to see a woman elected to the United States Senate.

For months Sargent has seemed a woman alone. But her solitary, courageous campaign has paid off. She is no longer alone.

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Tom Fitzpatrick