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Arizona Picks Governor Today in Runoff

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fife Symington, a Republican developer with no political experience, and Terry Goddard, the former Democratic mayor of Phoenix, will face off today in a runoff election for the state’s top job.

The election will mark the conclusion of an expensive campaign that was marked by charges and countercharges.

The two--who are seeking to replace retiring Democratic Gov. Rose Mofford--were forced into the rematch after a near-tie at the polls Nov. 6.

Symington garnered 49.7% of the vote and Goddard 49.2%--both short of the 50% plus one requirement for election passed by state voters in 1988.

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Voters passed the constitutional amendment changing the procedure following the 1986 election of Gov. Evan Mecham, who gained office with 40% of the vote in a three-way race.

Mecham was impeached and removed from office two years later and was replaced by Mofford on an interim basis.

Symington, 45, and Goddard, 44, together have spent nearly $5 million to campaign in the primary, general and runoff elections. The additional cost to taxpayers for the runoff, the first under the new Arizona law, is almost $3 million.

But in spite of all the time and money devoted to the race, voters are not expected to turn out in force. Turnout projections range from 30% to 38%, about half the number of voters who cast ballots in the November general election. There are 1.8 million eligible voters.

Arizona government expert and political pollster Bruce Merrill said his surveys have shown voters becoming more disillusioned with both candidates.

“It’s a sad commentary, in a way,” said Merrill, an associate professor at Arizona State University.

He and other analysts have found voters alienated by the barrage of negative campaigning, a slew of personal attacks that Merrill said have almost completely obscured the issues.

“At a time in the history of Arizona when the state is facing some really important issues . . . people have no idea what kind of governor we may be getting,” he said.

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Surveys conducted by Merrill and Rocky Mountain Poll research director Earl de Berge show among those most likely to vote, Symington holds a decisive lead over Goddard. Another poll found the race a dead heat.

Symington--who pollsters said trailed Goddard by 17 points before the November election--shrugged off the polls. “I don’t worry about polls,” he said. “I worry about who can get out the vote.”

Experts say the mudslinging campaign, a recent political corruption scandal at the state Legislature and the distraction of the ground war in the Persian Gulf are factors that could influence the voter turnout one way or the other.

“I honestly don’t think anybody knows who’s going to the polls,” Merrill said. “I’m not sure you can call this race.”

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