Next week's special primary election could be a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. (Considering the slaughter that started the series of events that led us to this point, let's certainly hope so.)
The winners (Democrat Ron Barber and whoever emerges from the four-way free-for-all on the Republican side) will spend the next eight weeks—and a considerable amount of money—battling for the right to spend a few weeks in Washington, D.C., occupying a congressional seat in a district that will change significantly before the next election rolls around in just five months.
Think about it: Whoever wins in June will head to Washington and set up an office just in time for Congress to take the Fourth of July weekend off. (In Washington, words mean different things than in the real world: A "weekend" can last for weeks.)
Then they'll go back for a couple of weeks before Congress takes the entire month of August off. Then they'll go back after Labor Day and hang out for a couple of weeks before adjourning again so everybody can go home and spend a ton of other people's money trying to get re-elected. Not a bad gig if you can get it. I guess that's why the five people involved in next week's primaries had, at press time, collectively raised about $1.5 million.
Next Tuesday, April 17, I'm going to stay up until the last vote is counted. Here's my tout sheet:
• Martha McSally will win if: Republican women vote as a bloc. Oh, wait! Do Republicans still allow their women folk to vote?
• Frank Antenori will win if: He can squeeze just a little bit more out of the spirit of Howard Beale. The Tea Party is still around, but you have to assume that those people might have yelled themselves hoarse with the whole, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" routine.
I'm also wondering when the political Peter Principle is going to kick in: Will the whole pissed-off act carry Antenori to Washington, or did he hit the pissed-off ceiling when he finagled that state Senate seat?
• Dave Sitton will win if: Lute Olson personally asks enough people to vote for Sitton. Olson is a living god in Tucson. I remember how bummed out I was when I found out that he is a Republican. For those of you who lived through the 1960s, it was a feeling akin to when you first saw your favorite radio disc jockey in person. ("Oh my God! That voice comes from in there?!")
I mean, Lute Olson worked with black people, and he was good at basketball. Those are Democrat things.
• Jesse Kelly will win if: He can avoid the curse of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. After the PRI dominated Mexican politics for 60 years in a manner that made presidential elections mere formalities, Cárdenas shook things up within the party. After being kicked out of the PRI for his rabble-rousing attempts to change the way presidential successors were hand-picked—it's called el dedazo, with the sitting president pointing his finger at his successor—he ran at the top of a ticket supported by a coalition of left-wing parties.
Amazingly (or perhaps not so much), on the day of the election (July 6, 1988), the IBM computer system that was used to count the votes (ahem) malfunctioned. When it was finally brought back up, the PRI candidate, Carlos Salinas, was declared the winner. The phrase se cayó el sistema (the system crashed) became synonymous with election fraud.
What's weird, however, is that although everybody in the country knew that Cárdenas had been jobbed, when he ran again the next time, he only got 17 percent of the vote, with the common perception being that he was a loser.
Jesse Kelly lost a close race to Gabrielle Giffords in 2010, but he did so in a congressional district with a Republican plurality and in a year when rabid white people were pushing the Republican Party to near-record gains in the U.S. House of Representatives. More than a few people might wonder, "If he couldn't win that election, how can he win this one?"
My real concern is with Ron Barber. I hear he's a nice guy, but that might not be what we need in this case, especially considering that he'll be running against someone who has been battle-tested in an election.
My fear is twofold: First, a long time ago, when I was in high school, they had cheerleader tryouts in front of the entire school. There was this one girl—nice, smart, good-looking—who decided to try out. I still shudder when I think about it. The poor girl tried to do a jump, and it was like gravity said to her, "Oh, no you don't!" Nobody wanted to come in contact with her after it was over for fear that the spaz was contagious.
The second thing is that I've read about certain silent-movie stars who couldn't make the transition to talkies because of their voices. This one macho star had a natural voice that sounded like Pee-wee Herman after riding a bicycle too long while sucking on helium.
What if Barber is like one—or both!—of those things? We're going to find out soon enough.