"On election night at 11 o'clock," Rick DeGraw says, "I got a call from Terry Goddard's campaign. "Terry was then leading Eddie Basha by 1,600 votes. They ask me, 'Do you guys want to concede?' "`This is some kind of joke, isn't it?' I said. 'Terry has already lost the election. You just don't know it yet. About two hours from now, Eddie Basha will move into the lead, and the race will stay that way until tomorrow morning.'"
Rick DeGraw leans back in his chair. He laughs softly. There is no spite in his reaction. DeGraw, 47, with oversize aviator glasses and a prominent mustache, also has an ample belly. If Basha can comfortably refer to himself as "the chubby grocer," DeGraw has the perfect body for his chief of staff. DeGraw has much to smile about these days. In the intensely competitive world that makes up "inside politics," DeGraw is king of the hill. His achievement in this campaign has marked him as something of a political genius. DeGraw is the man who planned and directed Eddie Basha's seemingly miraculous primary election victory. In other areas of endeavor, talent such as his might be nominated for a Nobel Prize, an Academy Award or, certainly, an Emmy. Given the secrecy that shrouds the behind-the-scenes political process, DeGraw's superlative effort on Basha's behalf may only be appreciated fully by his victims in the rival political camps. DeGraw sits in his cramped office at Basha headquarters, 1515 North Central. A converted storefront, the place is, like so many political offices, without charm or amenities. I must make an exception. There is an excellent photo of Eddie Basha on one wall.
The only warm spots in the headquarters are a bowl of apples turning brown and a plate of soggy chocolate chip cookies. But none of this matters. Following the startling victory DeGraw engineered over prerace favorites Terry Goddard and Paul Johnson, the rest of the Arizona Democratic party is beating down his door.
Tommy Espinoza, the prominent Latino, is waiting in line to see him. Earl Katz, for years the chief fund raiser for Dennis DeConcini, is on the telephone from Tucson.
"Wait a minute," DeGraw says. He rummages through piles of papers on his desk. "I have it here somewhere."
Then he says, "I hate it when they clean my desk. I can't find anything. At any rate, I wanted to show you this picture of Harry Truman holding up the Chicago Daily Tribune, which proclaimed Tom Dewey had won the 1948 election.
"Truman always said, 'The experts get more wrong all the time.' "What people don't realize is that the primary election in Arizona is very different from the general election. Between 32 and 42 percent of the vote comes from 13 counties. So I figured that if we did the outlying counties, we could still win, even though we didn't win in either Maricopa or Pima counties.
"We certainly couldn't figure on winning Phoenix. We were running against two former Phoenix mayors. When it turned out we actually did beat Terry in Phoenix, I knew we were going to win. "We knew Terry would do well in Tucson. We figured he'd get 40 percent of the vote and that we could count on 27 percent. We actually got 26.8 percent."
In planning the campaign against Goddard and Johnson, DeGraw wasn't going up against strangers. In previous years, DeGraw had run campaigns for both Goddard and Johnson. He knew their strengths and weaknesses.
"I think Eddie Basha is the first candidate in Arizona history to win this primary without taking either Maricopa or Pima counties," DeGraw says. "Our strategy was based on getting 41 percent of the total vote in greater Arizona. We actually got 45 percent. The only county we didn't win was Cochise."
DeGraw's voice flows easily over the statistics of the race. A former minister, he is a practiced speaker who knows how to marshal his facts.
"Eddie Basha traveled to more towns and cities than any other candidate I've ever been associated with," DeGraw says. What he does not mention is that since Basha owns 70 grocery stores all over the state, such a continuing tour was a simpler task for him.
But the trips paid off handsomely.
"There were several counties where Basha got more votes than Terry and Paul combined. There are some precincts in greater Arizona where Basha got 90 percent of the vote."
And yet, you get the sense that there were times when DeGraw's strategy was questioned.
"Every time a new poll came out and showed us behind, I had to keep telling my supporters that the polls were wrong again. There are several major keys that never show. Polls always go for voters who have voted in the previous two elections. This leaves out voters who are Native American, Hispanics or Afro-American, because they tend not to be involved in contested primaries. In our case, this also left out the employees of Basha's stores. There are 70 stores all over the state. Many became ardent workers for the campaign."