"Hellooooo, Mesa!"
That was geriatric superstar Pat Boone's greeting last month during a benefit fund raiser for his pal Doug Wead, who's running for Congress from Arizona's new District 6. Boone then conducted a search in the audience of 800 for "square" people who support right-wing Amway evangelist Wead.

Boone's huckstering for Wead was successful, but don't judge a congressional race by the blandness of its concerts.

Arizona has a political contest in which all the candidates of both parties are either crafty or intelligent, or both.

The six candidates talk a lot about "jobs," but this is a bitter, often ideological fight in a district that radiates from the East Valley suburbs to span one-third of the state.

Beyond anyone's imagination two years ago, the District 6 contest has attracted three Republicans and three Democrats into a race that highlights several significant social, political and religious movements now afoot in the country.

Abortion. Feminism. The environment. The future of public schools. The religious right. The irrelevance of current political parties.

For pure campaign color, this one's hard to beat, what with a Pat Boone concert and tangents to AzScam and Moonies. And where else but in Arizona can you watch the state GOP finance chairman, a Polish migr named John Godzich, help hundreds of French people find Jesus Christ? (See related story.)

The District 6 race also reveals a new way to fund the political game. Sales networks, nurtured in a sort of free-enterprise religion, are threatening to displace parties in this race. Wead's campaign involves direct marketing by videotape (he's mailed out tens of thousands of promotional tapes) and the use of celebrities like Boone, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan and Neil Bush at concerts, "charity award" dinners and private meetings.

It's a game in which many of Arizona's prominent Goldwater-style Republicans find themselves on the left wing of the party. And left out.

The September 8 primary election in District 6 promises a monumental clash of issues and political techniques that could cost both major political parties dearly. Not that anyone may care in this year of contempt for officeholders, but the Democratic primary features two of the party's brightest and savviest legislators, state senators Karan English and Alan Stephens. English is the only woman in the race--a fact she mentions at every opportunity--and the most ardent environmentalist; Stephens is quick on his feet, a skilled partisan infighter for the Democrats as Senate majority leader and the only AzScam-smear target in the race. The third Democrat is an articulate and assertive Navajo lawyer, Al Hale, whose background resembles Abraham Lincoln's.

On the Republican side is the campaign's biggest spender, Wead, a preacher and publicist and newcomer to Arizona who has molded evangelical Christianity and charismatic capitalism into a potent political force. (Wead was profiled in the June 10, 1992, issue of New Times.) Another newcomer, Mike Meyer, portrays himself as the only pro-choice Republican and the only person in the race never to have had a government job. The third Republican is conservative lawyer Phil MacDonnell, a veteran of government-related work and a self-proclaimed crime buster who entered the race in response to Wead's presence.

The state's Democrats will wind up sacrificing at least one of their most prominent elected officials on September 8. But the Republican party is being ripped apart by its contest.

@body:Imagine all six congressional candidates sitting around a table, unencumbered by time limits, strict rules of order and free to spar.

Who would set the tone for the discussion? Who would be the most assertive? Who would coin the most memorable phrases? Who would invoke his party's revered names?

The surprising winner on all four counts during such a session at a Mesa candidates' forum August 18 was Navajo attorney Al Hale, who has the least chance of winning the primary.

The key question to the candidates that evening was: What distinguishes you from the pack?

Hale, alone of the six, calmly stepped into the nervous silence. He talked about his background, how he grew up in a primitive hogan until he was 17. He explained what he saw as the "rediscovery of America." He criticized his opponents' chatter about issues by saying, "We're looking at a tree that's dying, and we're up there in the branches and leaves. We need to get at the root of the problems." He invoked the name of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It was poetic, kind of the opposite from what happened between the race's two heavyweight Democratic contenders during another forum on August 27.

From the start of the campaign, Karan English promised to be a "gentlewoman." She said mudslinging was not her style and wasn't what voters wanted. She and former state Senate colleague Alan Stephens were downright courtly to each other during an appearance before the East Valley Partnership in late July.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy