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Runoff Race Is No Holiday for Arizonans

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In Arizona, ‘tis the season to be campaigning. While other political candidates around the country accepted victory or defeat nearly two months ago, this state’s gubernatorial hopefuls still are running for office.

Because neither Republican Fife Symington nor Democrat Terry Goddard received 50% of the vote, plus one, at the polls on Nov. 6, the two will square off in an unprecedented runoff election on Feb. 26. “This is totally virgin territory for everyone,” said political consultant Paul Maslin of the Los Angeles office of Hickman-Maslin Research, a Washington polling firm. “Lots of states have runoff elections, but not with a Christmas break.”

After running in primary and general elections, Arizona’s candidates were chagrined to learn that they would have to face off again in a campaign twice as long as the one they had just run.

“I figured there were two options--win or lose,” said Goddard, who resigned as mayor of Phoenix to run for governor. “I didn’t know ‘draw’ was going to be” a third option.

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Shortly after the general election, Symington declared a holiday moratorium on joint appearances, political mailings and paid advertisements.

But he and Goddard have been quietly campaigning--sending Christmas cards to thousands of supporters, appearing at civic gatherings, meeting with backers and asking them to dip further into their coffers.

The candidates are the first affected by a 1988 state law requiring a runoff if any of the top five offices in the state is not won with a true majority. In response to the 1986 election of Gov. Evan Mecham with 40% of the vote in a three-way race, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring a candidate to receive at least 50% of the vote, plus one, before he or she could be elected to a top post.

Mecham was impeached and removed from office in the spring of 1988. Late in the race this year, former Mecham aide Max Hawkins declared himself a gubernatorial write-in candidate with an anti-abortion platform. His 10,900 votes were just enough to keep Symington and Goddard out of the winner’s circle.

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Symington received 49.7% and Goddard 49.2% of the nearly 1.1 million ballots cast.

Symington, a Phoenix developer and political novice, had lagged far behind Goddard in early polls. But he closed the gap as Election Day approached and ended up edging his opponent by 4,200 votes.

This time around, the tables are turned, with Symington viewed as the pre-election favorite and Goddard the underdog. Symington refers to himself as the winner of the general election, but he will not be resting on his laurels.

“I have no illusions about this race,” he said. “It’s going to be extremely tough and demanding. It’s going to be a toss-up, and we’re going to work our hearts out.”

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Maslin, whose firm was retained by the Goddard camp for this campaign, said candidates will have to target a variety of voters--including those who will stick to their original choice, those who will make a decision independent of their original vote and those who failed to cast ballots in November.

Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University associate professor who is an expert on state politics, predicted Symington will win the runoff, when only a plurality is required by law.

Merrill said Symington’s advantages are a 94,000-vote registration edge, a large conservative older population more likely to turn out to vote and a natural issue--economic conservatism at a time when the state is facing a $100-million deficit in its $3.5-billion budget.

If Goddard is to gain any ground, Merrill said, he must conduct a personal, aggressive campaign, not only stressing his experience in government but taking aim at Symington.

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Will voters in Arizona be ready to kick off the new year with an intense political battle? The experts believe they will.

“Most people realize that having a governor is absolutely crucial,” Merrill said.

Rose Mofford, the former secretary of state who became governor when Mecham was removed, will delay her retirement until the first week of March, when her successor will be sworn in.


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