Evan Mecham, impeached as Arizona's governor in 1988, officially earned a ballot spot Friday as an independent candidate seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain.
The 68-year-old Mecham was certified for the ballot when a judge dismissed McCain's legal challenge to his candidacy.
Most political analysts believe Mecham clouds McCain's prospects of winning a second term. Although McCain was tainted by the national savings and loan scandal, he was a heavy favorite to defeat his Democratic challenger, Phoenix community activist Claire Sargent. Mecham now will battle McCain for the support of conservatives, potentially splitting that vote.
McCain was one of the "Keating Five," a group of senators alleged to have improperly interfered with an investigation into the failure of the Lincoln Savings & Loan Assn. in Orange County, Calif., owned by Arizona businessman Charles H. Keating Jr. After an extensive investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, McCain received a reprimand for using bad judgment.
As a Republican, Mecham won the governorship in a three-way race in 1986. But he was removed from office in 1988 after the state Senate found he had obstructed justice by trying to thwart a state investigation of a threat allegedly made against a grand jury witness. It also found he misused money from a so-called protocol fund by lending $80,000 to his auto dealership.
He lost a comeback bid in the 1990 Republican gubernatorial primary. He decided to launch his independent Senate candidacy in late August after a draft movement for him organized by a Phoenix lawyer generated a favorable response.
To qualify him for the ballot, supporters had to gather 10,555 signatures within 10 days after Arizona's Sept. 8 primary. Secretary of State Richard Mahoney announced last week that Mecham had filed 16,085 signatures and would be on the ballot, but McCain filed a challenge to the petitions.
In an appearance on a radio talk show Friday, Mecham left little doubt he plans to target McCain. Arguing that the incumbent's negative political baggage is worse than his, Mecham said, "I didn't have my hand in anybody's hip pocket, nor was I taking gifts from anybody."