Arizona: First Test On Neutral Turf

Posted October 31, 2003 at 5:36pm

Beyond New Hampshire

This is the first of a six-part series on the states holding presidential nominating contests on Feb. 3, 2004, immediately after the all-important Jan. 27 New Hampshre primary.

To hear media consultant Bob Grossfeld tell it, Arizona’s Democratic presidential primary resembles nothing so much as the cola wars of the 1980s.

“Dean and Clark are Coke and Pepsi with Lieberman and Kerry battling to find out who is going to be RC Cola,” Grossfeld said.

The fight for Arizona on Feb. 3, 2004, is seen by many national observers as the first test of which of the nine presidential candidates can woo a diverse electorate that includes roughly 1.3 million Latinos.

“This will be the first look at how diverse communities are going to vote,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a backer of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. “That brings a significance beyond the size of the state.”

In interviews with a variety of consultants, elected officials and state party operatives, the former Vermont governor emerged as the current frontrunner although many emphasized that the race remained volatile.

Because of the size of the state — the 2000 Census showed the population at just more than 5 million — it will provide a marked campaign contrast to both the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

Both Iowa (population 2.9 million) and New Hampshire (1.2 million) are viewed as retail politics states, where meeting voters one on one is emphasized over television and radio advertising.

“Arizona is just too big for retail politics,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who won both New Hampshire and his home state in his 2000 primary bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “Television, radio and endorsements are what matter.”

John Weaver, a top campaign strategist for McCain, called Arizona a “wholesale” state.

“A sense of who has what number of people on the ground matters less there than it would in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Weaver said.

Dean is the only candidate to advertise in Arizona so far. He ran two TV commercials in late August and early September; the first focused on Dean’s efforts to bring health care to all children in Vermont, the second on his opposition to the war in Iraq.

But because Arizona is an early voting state, organization must not be totally overlooked, according to Grossfeld.

Early voting begins Jan. 19, and Grossfeld said past statistics show that up to 80 percent of likely primary voters will cast their ballots by mail.

He said smart presidential campaigns will quickly pick up the voter rolls from the local elections tomorrow in order to identify those most likely to vote in February.

“Because you’ve got such a large number of candidates, it doesn’t take a lot to go after new voters utilizing a vote-by-mail strategy,” Grossfeld said.

When it comes to organization, Dean pulled off something of a coup by signing on Frank Costanzo, the education coordinator at the state party, according to Craig Columbus, a former 5th district Congressional candidate and political blogger for the Arizona Republic.

“Costanzo is a stalwart within the Democratic Party structure,” Columbus said. Costanzo is also the chief operating officer of Ronco Inventions, the company behind such “As Seen on TV” products as the Food Dehydrator and the Pasta and Sausage Maker.

Although Costanzo is one of only three paid Dean staffers in the state, state party Executive Director Paul Hegarty said the Arizona Dean campaign has shown an ability to organize and turn out supporters.

At a party for the Oct. 9 presidential debate in Phoenix, Dean’s campaign had roughly 1,200 people in attendance, Hegarty said. Former Gen. Wesley Clark had the second-best-attended party, with a crowd of roughly 250.

Grijalva’s decision to back Dean may also give the governor an organizational boost, as the freshman Congressman won a convincing primary victory in the Tucson area despite being outspent 3-to-1 by his closest rival.

“We are going to grind it out,” Grijalva said.

By the numbers, however, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has devoted the most paid staff to the state (10) and has recruited Gov. Janet Napolitano’s (D) deputy chief of staff, Mario Diaz, to lead that effort. Kerry’s campaign is quick to note that six of his 10 in-state staffers are Hispanic.

“Many of the known political operatives in the state are with Kerry,” Grijalva conceded.

But Kerry himself is not often seen in the state, Hegarty said, preferring instead to send surrogates like former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who was nearly elected mayor in 2001.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has visited the state the most — eight times — and with his recent decision to pull out of the Iowa caucuses he is likely to devote even more time to Arizona.

The Connecticut Senator’s attention has paid off with the most extensive and impressive list of local endorsements.

He has the backing of former Gov. Raul Castro, state House Minority Leader John Loredo and Maricopa County (Phoenix) Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, among others.

During the past several months, Kerry has worked to pick off early Lieberman endorsers but ran into trouble recently when one ship-jumper, state Rep. Ben Miranda (D), was accused of allegedly telling colleagues that they should leave Lieberman because his Orthodox Jewish faith does not allow him to campaign between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

Miranda was disavowed by the Kerry campaign shortly after.

Lieberman is also the one candidate tailoring his message regularly to local concerns in Arizona, such as border security, immigration and forest preservation, Columbus said.

But “Lieberman is dogged here by the same problems he is dogged by everywhere else,” Columbus said — namely high name identification but little real energy for his campaign.

Lieberman led in polling conducted over the summer, but in a Behavior Research Center survey done in mid-October, he had fallen to third place — albeit a deficit within the survey’s margin of error.

Dean led the field with 13 percent to 12 percent for Clark and 11 percent for Lieberman. Kerry was at 8 percent.

In that survey, both Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) took just 4 percent, and neither has concentrated heavily on the state.

Gephardt only recently put in place a state campaign coordinator and is relying primarily on the support of 4th district Rep. Ed Pastor (D) and his strength within organized labor to pull him through.

Pastor said his candidate was behind Dean, Lieberman and Kerry at this point and that “Iowa is where we are putting all our resources right now.”

But Pastor has been meeting with various local labor groups supporting Gephardt, and they are developing a turnout plan that will be unveiled later this month.

“We are basically fine-tuning what labor has done in past campaigns,” Pastor explained.

Because of his labor support, Gephardt is “poised in a great position to sneak through,” Hegarty said.

As for Edwards, he has little presence in the state and does not appear to be actively targeting it.

Although he has been to the state six times — the third-highest total of the presidential candidates — he mainly raised money during those stops.

“Edwards did too many small, private things,” Hegarty said.

The X-factor in all of these calculations is Clark, who has shot to the lead in various national surveys since he entered the race in September.

“Clark is still a concept,” Weaver said, pointing out that few Arizona voters really know much of anything about the general’s policy positions.

Clark did meet with state party Chairman Jim Pederson prior to the Oct. 9 debate and said Arizona was one of his “target” states, according to Hegarty. He also met with Phoenix Mayor-elect Phil Gordon.

Clark sent an assessment team to scope out the state last week but does not yet have any paid staffers in Arizona full time.

NEXT MONDAY: Delaware.