Evan Mecham's name is not on the ballot, but the ousted governor's conservative spirit looms over Tuesday's primary, as several of his backers challenge moderate Republican legislators who voted to impeach or convict him.
The primary - one of six around the country Tuesday - marks Arizona's first election since the traumatic political upheaval of last spring in which the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Mecham and the GOP-controlled Senate convicted him of obstructing justice and misusing funds.The Senate votes removed him from office and automatically installed Democrat Rose Mofford, the longtime secretary of state, to serve in his place until 1990. The Senate declined to bar Mecham from ever running for office again.
After he was ousted, Mecham forecast "a revolution at the ballot box," but he hasn't predicted any casualty figures in the current primaries and neither has anyone else.
The former governor insists those who keep talking about the Mecham factor are "trying to divert the attention of the voters" from the real issue: record tax and spending increases that were passed after his ousting to bail the state out of a deficit.
"It's `Let's throw enough mud at Mecham and make him the target so that we will change the issues from the voting records of the incumbents,"' he said.
Mecham, a perennial political outsider, won the governorship on his fifth try in 1986 in a three-way race. His strengths included a get-out-the-vote campaign that mobilized his many ultraconservative supporters and a series of tabloids that attacked his opponents.
In the current election, Mecham's Forward Arizona Political Action Committee has not distributed cash to candidates, and has handed out only a handful of formal endorsements. But it has conducted research and training for an unknown number of candidates.
Mecham says he will support whoever wins the GOP primary, but many Republican lawmakers fear his followers may simply refuse to vote for them in November even if they survive the primary. In a number of swing districts, that could hand the seat over to the Democrats.
It has not been easy to determine the exact number of primaries in which loyalty to Mecham seems to be a main issue. Nine GOP senators and 26 representatives face at least one primary opponent, but not all of the incumbents voted against Mecham and not all of the challengers are pro-Mecham.
House members run in pairs, with voters in each district allowed to vote for two candidates.
Among those facing primary challengers are the chief legislative architects of impeachment - Republicans like House Speaker Joe Lane and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Skelly.