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What the Devil won't tell you

The right stance? Farley, Garcia swing at air in Dem primary

Blue wave might topple Ducey but Dems don't look up to surfing it

Ever teach a kid to bat?

The first thing you do is tell the kid how to stand, then you tell them to hold the bat up and they hold it way too high. It’s fine. They’re learning. So you tell them to drop the bat down. And they let go of it entirely, so there it is, in the grass at their feet.

There's a sweet spot in between that isn't hard to find. It just takes some adjustment. So why is it so hard for Democrats to operate in the vast real estate between this and that, radical and milquetoast, too tricky and too predictable?

I wrote last year that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey could be vulnerable to a Democrat if the 2018 election turned into a referendum on Donald Trump. I keep forgetting that the Democrats themselves have a say in the matter.

Frontrunner for the party nomination David Garcia and fading challenger Steve Farley are doing their best to serve themselves up as roadkill. Democrats may want to give activist and first-time candidate Kelly Fryer a look. She hasn't had the money to play as hard as the other two, but she's refined the message she's sending voters.

It shouldn't be that hard for either Garcia, an Arizona State University professor of education, or Farley, an experienced state senator from Tucson, to give Ducey a run. Both are smart and charismatic candidates who preach what they think. 

To be fair to the incumbent, Ducey has done what he can to seem like he’s doing something about voters' top concern: paying for public schools. He hasn’t changed Arizona’s standing much, if at all, but he’s made a lot of noise looking like he’s done it because he’s savvy. And Arizona is still a red state so the GOP will naturally have the advantage; a Democrat would have to run a fit, trim and disciplined campaign.

Farley and Garcia have decided to do the other thing.

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Aha! The sun does shine on TV

What the hell happened to Farley?

He’s down 15 points in a statewide poll, which seems to have been verified by internal pollsters at the Republican Governors’ Association, which is dumping money into attacking Garcia. The good news for Farley is that he’s up from 11 points – not up 11 points, but up from 11 points – of support he showed in a poll taken earlier this summer.

How does one raise more than a million dollars and only get to 11 points as a legit candidate? My guess is that he’s from Tucson and Tucson Democrats are absolutely dumbfounded by television (and social media, and the fading fad of the Internet). The biggest surprise awaiting me as I sallied from dying newsrooms into professional politics is that local Democrats don’t think TV ads do any good. The donkey pros want to “dominate the dominant medium,” which in their eyes is always direct mail (if you are reading this pinching your nose and wincing or cackling like a happy Republican, then you get the idea). Inevitably some R goes up on TV attacking a Democrat doing war in mailboxes and comes screaming up to tighten the race. Then the Dems wonder how that happened. Point out it was TV and they nod, seeming to get it, until the following campaign season. In which they'll spend money on yard signs, or something.

Farley spent much of the campaign cyberstalking. He hired the Iowa-based consulting firm GPS Impact to strategically target tech savvy eyeballs over multiple platforms and strategically integrate this that and the other with values, actualization and fluffy puppies. We’ll call that the 11 Percent Strategy.

Not until July 29 did Farley go up with his first TV ad, introducing himself to voters like a goofy uncle dorking out on wonkery while the nieces kids rejoice. I kinda liked the off-beat style, maybe just not this year. Farley went all-in on the full goofball and is stuck with it. Had he gone up earlier, he could have mitigated the risk. The thing is, TV isn't a mailer. You don't time it to hit voters just as they receive their ballots. It takes repeated views for the message to sink in.

Politics is simple – a lot simpler than consultants make it out to be. Online targeting (I hate the term “digital,” digital strategists aren’t programming a fiber optic network) is a must-do today. But Garcia ran statewide in 2014 and damned near won the post of state superintendent of public instruction. Farley has only run for a legislative district in Tucson. No one knows his name. Don’t get tricky with tricked out gadgets. Go up on TV in May and say “I’m Steve Farley and I like schools, kids and jobs. Here’s my dog.”

Not hard.

He raised the money, did the polls and then waited until the start of early voting to introduce himself to voters. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that was too late. The most recent poll showed Farley would need to sweep undecided voters, which will be challenging because half the respondents were telling the pollster they already voted.

Abolition and rainbows

Garcia had an ad out, without a ton of money behind it, in October. Right: last October. He’s cruising to the nomination yet feels the need to taunt fate. Arizona may be slowly turning into a blue-ish state but it’s always been blood red in terms of law and order.

What could he do to destroy his general election campaign before it starts? Oh, I know. Needlessly wade into the debate over whether to abolish U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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Abolish ICE. Replace ICE. Reform ICE. ICE enforces the law and so long as the law makes no sense and lacks humanity, we can call ICE the Huggy Rainbow Sweetness Brigade but with Donald Trump in the White House and the law being what it is, the HRSB will bust down doors and deport busboys at gunpoint.

Being willing to lose for a principle like gay marriage or anti-immigrant legislation is wonderful leadership. Sacrificing a candidacy on the altar of a slogan is stupid.

If he’s taking a principled stand, then why talk about it in terms of replace rather than abolish? You can't do one without the other. 

Garcia is running for governor of Arizona and the U.S. Department of Justice will not report to him. Cash-strapped schools and overstuffed prisons will. Why wander off the into a federal argument to prove lefty chops when, for the love of God, the Arizona Legislature gives progressives so many big, slow targets? The state has private prisons with minimum occupancy contracts forcing the state to find inmates no matter the crime rate. RUKM?

It makes no sense. It’s like running for Tucson City Council as a Republican and pledging to pass a city ordinance requiring NFL players stand at every pro football game played at the Tucson Convention Center rather than talking about the city’s weak economy.

Garcia also had a minor scandal kerfuffle manufactured by his opponents, about his upcoming academic book presenting arguments for and against charter schools. Presenting a case “for” does not constitute some sort of sell-out to corporate greed. It’s what any academic studying the subject should be able to do.

What's it all about?

Winning an election, as anyone who’s watched politics for more than a few cycles knows, is about understanding the theory of the election. Donald Trump knew the people were fed up with the system from top to bottom. He ran accordingly.

I don’t get the sense that Arizona voters are eager to join a True Progressive Crusade or get geeky on budgetary line items. If I were to hazard a guess, voters want a candidate to not bullshit them and take the job as seriously as the candidate feels about their rigid doctrine.

The Blue Wave is coming. We don't know how if the Red Breakwater will hold. That wave may wash Garcia, or maybe Farley, to victory but neither seem like they’re going to surf it to glory.

Or to return to my original sports metaphor, because I love them: Hold the bat up off your shoulder and keep your eye on the ball. It’s not a question of moving right or moving left. It’s in the swing.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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