A wide-open presidential primary for Democrats in Arizona has most of the nine candidates pouring money, time and other resources into the state.
As a result, Arizona ranks near the top of the early primary states with the number of full-time staff members and local campaign offices, according to separate surveys by the Tribune and The Associated Press. Campaign insiders and political observers said almost every candidate believes a strong Arizona finish on Feb. 3 will help front-runners gain a decisive advantage, or propel a dark horse to the front of the field.
"Arizona is the first state that more accurately reflects a cross-section of America," said Frank Costanzo, state campaign director for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. "It is also a state that doesn’t have a favorite son from it or from next door.
"If somebody doesn’t fare well in the first couple of primaries, by the time they get to Arizona, they have to have some momentum and they have to get it out of Arizona."
The rapidly approaching primary season means candidates are making critical choices about where to spend their dollars. A sizeable portion is coming to the Grand Canyon state:
• Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has the largest fulltime paid staff in the state, with six members at the Phoenix headquarters and another three at a Tucson location. According to The Associated Press, that’s two more people than Kerry had last week in South Carolina, the richest delegate prize on Feb. 3.
• Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut raised his Arizona staff to seven last week with the addition of Becca Dean, former campaign finance director for Phoenix Mayor-elect Phil Gordon. Arizona became even more important to Lieberman after he pulled out of the Iowa caucuses, and he now has more staff here than in any other state with a Feb. 3 election.
• Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark opened a Phoenix office last week with former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson as state chairman and eight full-time employees on hand. The campaign intends to add more offices in Flagstaff and Tucson before Christmas, said spokesman Reggie Johnson. Clark’s first television ad started showing on Valley television stations Thursday.
• Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has two paid employees in the state, while Reps. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio have one staff member each. But all three are expected to bring more help to Arizona in the coming weeks.
Arizona’s Feb. 3 primary will be one of the "Super Seven," the first major block of state party elections on a single day following Iowa on Jan. 19 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27.
• Dean, the leading Democratic fund-raiser, was the first presidential candidate to air a television ad here back in August. While Dean has only three paid staff members based in Phoenix, the campaign appears to have built the largest grassroots organization, led by about 20 fulltime volunteers. The campaign announced Friday it would add more staff this week and is scheduled to open a second office in Tucson on Monday.
Bruce Merrill, a political pollster and professor at Arizona State University, said recent surveys show no Democrat has a clear edge with Arizona voters. Voter turnout at primaries tends to be low, so victory likely will go to the campaign that’s most effective at getting supporters to the polls, Merrill said.
The growing popularity of early voting in Arizona is forcing campaigns to decide how much to commit to the state earlier than many candidates would prefer. Candidates will have less time to gauge the possible impact of victory or defeat elsewhere.
"Half of the election is going to take place before the results from the other states are coming in," said Ruben Pulido Jr., Arizona spokesman for the Lieberman campaign.
President Bush’s Arizona campaign hasn’t moved beyond organizing Republican officials in each county and a record-breaking Phoenix fund-raiser in November because he faces no serious primary competition. But the Bush campaign will start gearing up early in 2004 since Arizona is expected to be a key swing state for the general election as well, officials said.
Presidential campaign information
Carol Moseley Braun
(no Arizona office) (312) 842-8500
Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark
525 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ, 85004 (480) 204-0108
3105 N. 24th St., Phoenix, AZ, 85016 (602) 954-5215
Sen. John Edwards
(no Arizona office) (602) 978-4140
Rep. Richard Gephardt
830 N. Central Ave (602) 262-2004
Sen. John Kerry
3806 N. 3rd St., No. 102, Phoenix, AZ, 85012 (602) 443-0250
Rep. Dennis Kucinich
234 W. University Drive, Tempe, AZ, 85281 (480) 222-3140
Sen. Joe Lieberman
824 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ, 85004 (602) 393-0067
The Rev. Al Sharpton (no Arizona office) (212) 704-7383
President Bush (State party headquarters) 3501 N. 24th Street, Phoenix, AZ, 85016 (602) 957-7770