The final blitz for Arizona’s Democratic voters is on with candidates for the party’s presidential nomination swarming the state from now through the election Tuesday.
All but two of the seven candidates are making a final press for votes in Arizona. The main event will be a forum Monday that focuses on Hispanic and American Indian issues, sponsored by the state’s League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. Five of the candidates will appear there.
The candidates also have been crisscrossing the state, where every poll shows there is still a large block of undecided voters.
The campaign in Arizona turned heated Saturday, with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean accusing front-runner Sen. John Kerry of being beholden to special interests, and Kerry’s wife suggesting Dean dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.
Up for grabs Tuesday in Arizona are 64 voting delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, where the party’s nominee will officially be anointed. Arizona is one of seven states holding primaries or caucuses Tuesday.
"This weekend is going to be critical," said Jim Pederson, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "It’s going to be this last-minute stuff that determines it."
Polls taken in the last week show a three-man race in Arizona between Kerry of Massachusetts, Dean and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark. But with such a large block of undecided voters, nothing is certain here, Pederson said.
"I think the overriding issue is who is going to go toe-to-toe with George Bush in November," Pederson said. "Issues aside, it’s that electability factor."
Dean and Clark were the only candidates campaigning in Arizona on Saturday. Dean held a rally in Tucson while Clark made his pitch to veterans in Sierra Vista. Teresa Heinz Kerry, Kerry’s wife, also stumped throughout the state, finishing the day with a rally at the campaign’s Phoenix headquarters.
Dean said in an interview Saturday with the Tribune that he remains optimistic, despite his sagging standing in the polls and his earlier losses to Kerry in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Unlike Kerry and Clark, who have waffled on issues like whether the invasion of Iraq was justified, Dean said he is the only candidate who has drawn a sharp distinction between himself and Bush.
That is what gives him the edge in the electability factor, he said.
"The Democrats have lost races because they assume that going to the center is the way to do it," Dean said. "I think that staying where you are is the way you do it. To stand up for Democratic Party principles again is the way to beat George Bush."
Dean also blasted Kerry, saying he is beholden to special interests. Dean based his attack on a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan political research group, which shows Kerry has raised $640,000 from lobbyists over the past 15 years, more than any other senator.
"I don’t owe the special interests anything," Dean told the Tribune. "Our campaign has been financed by small donations from ordinary Americans. I think people really do want to get the special interests out of Washington. I don’t think you can do that by nominating a senator who’s got more special interest money than any other senator in the last 15 years."
Teresa Kerry lashed back at Dean after she spoke at the Phoenix rally over remarks made by a Dean supporter in Tucson. Retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar said at the Dean rally that Kerry has not fought hard enough for veterans benefits while in Congress. Teresa Kerry said her husband has a "stellar record" on veterans’ issues.
She also suggested Dean dodged the Vietnam-era draft when he took a letter from his doctor describing back problems to medical examiners for the military. John Kerry was a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with a Combat V and three Purple Hearts.
"It’s very sad that the man who took off for Aspen to ski for one year after he was told he had a bad back and couldn’t go to war would dare (attack) a guy who got wounded three times," Teresa Kerry said. "He’s offending every soldier in America. How dare he?"
Frank Costanzo, Dean’s state director in Arizona, said after Teresa Kerry’s remarks that it was Hoar criticizing Kerry’s record, not Dean, and that the general’s comments were based on Kerry’s record in the Senate.
Dean held a huge lead in early polls, both in Arizona and nationally. However, his standing plummeted after Kerry surged to win the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
While Dean was running television ads early and often in Arizona, he pulled his advertising here after finishing second in New Hampshire. He said he isn’t writing Arizona off. If he had, he would not have campaigned Saturday in Tucson or planned to appear at the LULAC event Monday, he said.
Recent polls seem to present a muddled picture of the race in Arizona. In the last few weeks, separate polls have shown a statistical tie between Dean and Clark for first, with the rest of the pack trailing far behind; and a tight three-way race with Clark first, Kerry second and Dean in third. A poll released Friday has Kerry favored by 38 percent of likely Democratic voters here with Clark at 17 percent and Dean at 12 percent. The rest of the candidates were in single digits.
While the numbers may be wildly different, the trend is clear: Momentum is all Kerry’s, said Earl de Berge of the Behavior Research Center in Phoenix.
De Berge said he analyzed Arizona polls released since the one his group put out Jan. 12. While support for Clark and Dean is flat or falling, Kerry has surged since his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, de Berge said.
"Dean is fading pretty fast," he said. "Clark probably is hanging in there, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to withstand the surge from Kerry. The momentum is very clear."
Momentum or not, at least five of the candidates are not writing off Arizona. Confirmed speakers at the LULAC event are Clark, Dean, Kerry, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. The two candidates who will not be there Monday, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and the Rev. Al Sharpton, have neither campaigned in Arizona nor opened offices here.
Clark, Kerry and Lieberman all plan campaign rallies in Tucson before the LULAC event. Clark and Kerry also have rallies scheduled after the forum.
None of the candidates has announced plans to be in Arizona Tuesday.
Voting in the Feb. 3 Democratic primary Who’s eligible: Democrats registered to vote by Jan. 5. Early voting: Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Voting on primary day: Polling places open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. To find polling place, visit www.recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace or call (602) 506-1511.
Delegates: Arizona will send 64 delegates to the Democratic national convention. Of those, 36 are apportioned based on voting results within the state’s eight Congressional districts. A candidate must receive at least 15 percent of votes within a district to qualify for a delegate. Another 12 are apportioned based on statewide voting and the rest divided among elected officials and other state party representatives.
Schedules for the Democratic presidential candidates campaigning in Arizona.
• Wesley Clark holds meeting at the American Legion Hall in Flagstaff.
• Clark, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich will participate in forum on Hispanic and American Indian issues at 6 p.m. sponsored by the Arizona League of United Latin American Citizens at Wyndham Phoenix Hotel, 50 E. Adams St.
• Clark holds a rally at 2:45 p.m. in Tucson with rally at Phoenix campaign headquarters, 525 E. McDowell Road, after the LULAC forum.
• Kerry delivers speech in Tucson at 2 p.m. and attends rally at 8 p.m. at Phoenix College, 1202 W. Thomas Road.
• Kucinich will walk the campuses of Arizona State University in Tempe and South Mountain Community College in Phoenix in the morning and early afternoon.
• Lieberman holds town hall at 12:30 p.m. in Tucson.