Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/21117paranzinozzem.html

Salmon lost the race by taking a hard right turn
Tucson, Arizona Sunday, 17 November 2002
By Michael Paranzino

The Matt Salmon who lost the governor's race to Janet Napolitano bears little resemblance to the Congressman Salmon I worked under for five years.

The Salmon campaign turned away from Salmon's roots and his successful congressional record, reinventing him as a hard-right politician.

The result was a stampede of moderates to Napolitano's candidacy, delivering her a victory.

Consider the stunning nature of Salmon's defeat. Arizona is a state with a six-point GOP voter registration advantage.

Nationwide, moderates and independents embraced the GOP, resulting in historic Republican gains.

Salmon received two campaign appearances by an enormously popular Republican president.

Yet in Maricopa County, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 14 percent, Salmon mustered only a four- point margin. Moderates had rejected him.

Obviously, in politics, you must first secure your base, and for Salmon, that is conservatives.

Salmon had secured his base by April 2, when his most serious Republican threat, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, announced he would not run for governor. (Arizona's five GOP Congressmen and former Attorney General Grant Woods had already opted not to challenge Salmon.)

A poll released that week had Salmon leading his closest Republican rival by 19 points among likely voters.

At that point, with the conservative vote secure, Salmon should have moved aggressively to remind the moderates who had always backed him that he was still their man.

After all, Salmon had a long history of confounding those who tried to pigeon-hole him as a right-winger.

This was a congressman who had forced the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up a toxic waste site in Tempe, and who was a leading proponent of renewable energy.

He had worked to save a school for homeless children in Phoenix, and courageously led a ballot initiative to teach immigrant children in English, a measure that won with 63 percent of the vote two years ago.

Salmon had quietly lobbied to pass cancer research legislation in both Washington, D.C., and Arizona, and consistently voted against big tobacco.

He had sponsored a welfare reform provision targeting the assets of deadbeat dads (which the campaign foolishly renamed "deadbeat parents"), and gave a young "welfare mom" the chance she needed by hiring her for his congressional

Salmon had led the ouster of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich not because Gingrich was insufficiently conservative - as Salmon critics suggested during the campaign - but because, as Salmon wrote in The New York Times in 1998, Gingrich had squandered an opportunity to get things done for the American people.

None of what had given Salmon his distinctive voice, and had won him broad-based support, received significant attention from the Salmon campaign.

Instead, right through Election Day, they confined their man to the right wing. One day he appeared on a religious TV show suggesting that the election was a battle between good and evil.

Another day Charlie Keating and Evan Mecham turned up at one of his fundraisers. Bizarre. All the while, Janet Napolitano assiduously courted moderates.

The "new" Salmon had also become timid in offering policy proposals.

Salmon's "500,000 high-paying jobs" was a slogan, not a policy.

The campaign even ignored its one great idea, a provision Salmon had provided to Sen. Dean Martin, to treat bail for rapists the same way Arizona treats bail for murderers.

This language became the heart of Proposition 103, which received more votes than any other item on this year's ballot, winning 80 to 20 percent and outpolling Salmon by 35 points.

The more than 900,000 Arizonans who voted for Prop. 103 never knew that Salmon had provided the key language.

The final blow to the campaign came when the media reported that Salmon had failed to register as a lobbyist.

Instead of forthrightly acknowledging the error and filing the form at once, Arizona's most famous lobbyist declared that his lobbying was actually "consulting."

The Salmon people had long admired as a breath of fresh air suddenly sounded like a politician - the kiss of death among independent voters.

Salmon will have plenty to offer Arizona in the years ahead. But first, Arizona needs the old Matt Salmon back.

* Michael Paranzino, a Washington, D.C.-based political consultant, was Salmon's chief of staff until June 1999, and held a senior position in the Salmon for Governor campaign until April 2002.


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