Salmon lost the race by taking a hard right turn
Tucson, Arizona Sunday, 17 November 2002
By Michael Paranzino
SPECIAL TO THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
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
Consider the stunning nature of Salmon's defeat. Arizona is a state with a
GOP voter registration advantage.
Nationwide, moderates and independents embraced the GOP, resulting in historic
Salmon received two campaign appearances by an enormously popular
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
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
After all, Salmon had a long history of confounding those who tried to
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
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
that won with 63 percent of the vote two years ago.
Salmon had quietly lobbied to pass cancer research legislation in both
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.