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SCRAMBLEWATCH '06: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

The end is nigh! Election Day is arriving this Tuesday, Nov. 7--and we're feeling blue. We're going to miss Gabby, Randy and the gang. We're going to miss R.J. Reynolds' ridiculous assertions that they're trying to protect nonsmokers rather than their own profits. We're going to miss homebuilders pouring about $2 million into a campaign that purports to oppose sweetheart deals for developers. We're going to miss listening to candidates who have no chance in hell of winning explaining how they're going to pull off their underdog victory. (We're looking your way, Ron Drake.) We're going to miss the mailers, the signs on every street corner, the TV ads, the robo-calls.

We're going to miss it all--even state Rep. Russell Pearce's crazy talk about Operation Wetback and his e-mails directing us to neo-Nazi organizations. (Well, we suppose Russell will be back once the legislative session begins.)

The big questions, as the campaign season reaches its sweaty climax:

· Can the oddly robotic Democrat Jim Pederson knock off Republican Sen. Jon Kyl? The latest poll from Maricopa County PBS station KAET-TV shows a tightening race. The survey of 1,019 likely voters, taken between Oct. 19 and Oct. 22, showed that 47 percent were planning to vote for Kyl; 41 percent were planning to vote for Pederson; and 9 percent were undecided. See what $12.4 million can buy you?

Boosting Pederson down here in Southern Arizona is one Bill Clinton, who was scheduled to swing by to inspire voters on Thursday, Nov. 2. He's sure to be a bigger draw than last week's super-foxy guest, former senator/vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, who gave an inspiring speech to a small crowd of Democrats at El Presidio Park. Bet you didn't know Edwards was the son of a mill worker.

One sign that's good for Pederson (and Gabby Giffords, as well as the various Democrats challenging other members of the state's congressional delegation): The KAET poll showed that 49 percent of those polled (including 16 percent of Republicans) said they'd like to see the Democratic Party in control of Congress after the election, while just 36 percent said they wanted the GOP to keep running the show. One quarter of those surveyed said they weren't sure what they wanted anymore. Can't say we blame them.

· Speaking of control of Congress: Is there any way Republican Randy Graf can overtake Giffords? We've yet to see a poll that shows Randy within striking distance, but Team Graf told us this week that their tracking poll has them within 5 or 6 percentage points. Then again, campaign manager R.T. Gregg told us in mid-October that Graf had crested the million-dollar threshold in his campaign account, but a Federal Election Commission report covering activity through Oct. 18 shows that Graf had raised only $984,298 and had $217,689 in the bank.

"I got a little carried away," Gregg told us this week. "What can I say? You know, $30,000 here, $30,000 there; pretty soon you're talking about real money."

Graf had Speaker of the House Denny Hastert in town this week for a fundraiser, prompting the Arizona Democratic Party to issue a press release entitled: "Graf Brings Hastert to Town for Scariest Halloween Party Ever." The release notes: "There is no word yet whether disgraced ex-Congressman Mark Foley will attend the party."

Giffords, by comparison, was up to $2,184,911 and still had $413,365 in the bank.

Graf unveiled his October surprise on Halloween, hitting Giffords with an ad accusing her of corruption in relation to a convoluted land deal involving the city of Tucson leasing a vacant lot from the Giffords family. The city wanted to figure out how to persuade a grocery chain to put a store on the property to boost downtown redevelopment, but--like most of the city's downtown efforts--the plan went nowhere.

· Can Gov. Janet Napolitano win by more than 30 percentage points? The KAET poll showed her leading Republican Len Munsil by a staggering 43 percentage points, with two-thirds of the voters supporting J. No and just 24 percent supporting Munsil. Guess making outrage over the Sept. 11 memorial in Phoenix the centerpiece of Len's campaign wasn't the smartest strategic decision.

· Will voters see through R.J. Reynolds' smoke and mirrors? The tumor-causing, teeth-staining, smelly, puking tobacco giant has dropped more than $8 million on the campaign for Proposition 206, which would ban most smoking in restaurants but allow it in bars, while stripping local communities of the ability to pass stronger anti-smoking measures. It's a ridiculous effort to counter Prop 201, which is the real anti-smoking initiative pushed by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.

The KAET poll shows that 55 percent of the voters were supporting Prop 201, while just 44 percent were supporting Prop 206.

· Will Arizona be the first state to reject a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and domestic partnerships? The KAET poll shows that 56 percent of the voters were opposed to the amendment, while just 30 percent were for it. But the KAET question included little details like how the prop would "bar governmental entities such as cities, counties, school districts and universities from providing employee benefits to unmarried partners," which isn't exactly how the ballot description reads.

Arizona Together, the political committee opposing Proposition 107, had raised more than $1.7 million to get out that message about domestic partnerships, but beyond a few mailers and yard signs, we're not seeing much of that money being spent here in Southern Arizona. Maybe they had more of a presence in Maricopa County.

· Will we finally see reform of state trust land? The conservation/education/business alliance has raised a cool $2.2 million to persuade voters to set aside nearly 700,000 acres of state trust land for conservation and improve the State Land Department's planning efforts. The big opposition is coming from the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, various developers and their allies. They've poured nearly $2 million into Save Our Trust, a political committee that is warning Arizonans that developers are terrible people who are looking for sweetheart deals through Prop 106. Save Our Trust, indeed.

· Will voters see through the bullshit campaign for Prop 207, the so-called AZ Homeowners Protection Effort, or AZHOPE? The initiative campaign's $1.3 million-plus has come mostly from Americans for Limited Government, a front group for New York City bazillionaire Howard Rich, who is bankrolling initiatives across the country. Although it purports to protect ordinary citizens from government condemnation proceedings, the darker side of the initiative would hamstring local planning efforts. Even the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the Tucson Chamber of Commerce don't like this one.

· Will voters decide to get rid of most polling places and embrace a statewide vote-by-mail system? The KAET poll shows that Prop 205, aka Your Right To Vote, had the support of only 28 percent of the voters, while 59 percent were opposed. That's bad news for Rick Murphy, the former GOP congressional candidate who put up $243,305 of his own money to put the initiative on the ballot and sell it to voters.

Regardless of how that turns out, we may have more people voting early than on Election Day this year. Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez tells The Skinny that as of Monday, Oct. 30, 170,025 of Pima County's 437,468 voters had requested early ballots via the mail or one of the early-voting satellite locations. Roughly 70,000 had come back in, meaning people are either taking their time in going over the ballot, or they're giving up on voting.

In Pima County's portion of CD 8, 52,835 of the 117,299 Republicans had requested early ballots, but only 21,367 had sent those back. Of the 102,643 Democrats in CD 8, 47,860 had requested early ballots, but only 20,522 had cast them.

Of the 82,714 voters not registered with the two big parties, 27,368 had requested early ballots. A total of 9,760 of those had been cast.

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