Arizona Governor: Just Being Themselves

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Politicians spend most of their time playing against type. Republicans are not too cozy with Big Business; Democrats are not tax-and-spend liberals; Independents are not eccentric. Sometimes it turns out that the stereotypes are wrong — just not in the Arizona Governor's race. Republican Matt Salmon is running for Governor and until recently was cashing six-figure checks as a lobbyist for Qwest Communications and the city of Phoenix; Democrat Janet Napolitano is the current attorney general who might tax her way out of the state's potential $1 billion budget deficit; Independent Richard Mahoney is recovering after he impaled himself on a steel post while trying to put up a campaign sign.

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Napolitano and Salmon are in a statistical dead heat for the job held by term-limited Republican Jane Hull. Hull and Napolitano were members of Arizona's Fab Five (women who swept into the state's top offices in 1998), but now Hull is one of Napolitano's most successful issues. During her two terms in office, Hull ran up a huge deficit but remained the most successful of the state's recent Republican Governors. (Evan Mecham was impeached; Fife Symington was indicted.) "Look at what happened to our state under the failed Republican leadership of the last Governors," said Napolitano during the first gubernatorial debate.

Salmon, a former Congressman who led the 1998 coup attempt against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has brushed off barbs likening him to his G.O.P. predecessors but has had a harder time deflecting attention from his wallet. He has received about $150,000 so far this year to lobby Congress for Phoenix civic projects (like the city's proposed light-rail system) that could deprive other Arizona cities of federal funds. "Are you running for Governor, or are you doing business?" asks Cecelia Martinez, director of the state's Clean Elections Institute.

Attorney general Napolitano has a different kind of money problem: she has urged lawmakers to reconsider a tax on Medicaid premiums to raise $40 million to $60 million toward cutting the deficit. In a state that considers tax cuts and air conditioning divine rights, Napolitano could be in for rough going. She also has a bit of a charisma problem. As a Phoenix New Times columnist put it, "Napolitano has been noteworthy ... only for her keen ability to strategically avoid being noteworthy."

Watching all this with glee is Mahoney. The 37 stitches in his thigh have been removed, and the former academic is back behaving like a typical indie maverick. He routinely calls Salmon and Napolitano "Tweedledee and Tweedledum," and he is polling at 6%, which means he could be the difference maker between Governor Tweedledee and Governor Tweedledum.