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A group of largely unknown Democrats seeks a shot at John McCain's Senate seat

The four Democrats who want a shot at John McCain's Senate seat have one thing in common: Most Arizonans don't know who any of them are.

A June Rasmussen poll showed that 60 percent of the voters had yet to decide which candidate to support. A survey that same month by ArizonaGuardian.com showed that more than three out of four voters were undecided.

The most recent survey, a Rasmussen poll done in late July, showed that 47 percent of voters still hadn't made up their minds. And 10 percent of voters wished they could vote for somebody else.

The four Democrats split the remaining four out of 10 voters. That July Rasmussen poll showed former Tucson City Councilmember Rodney Glassman—who has raised a half-million dollars and matched it with a half-million of his own money—leading with just 15 percent of the vote.

He was trailed by Cathy Eden, a former state lawmaker and agency head, who had 11 percent, and labor organizer Randy Parraz, who was at 10 percent. Bringing up the rear was investigative journalist John Dougherty, at 7 percent.

The Democratic contest has been overshadowed by the race on the GOP side, where Sen. John McCain is in the process of demolishing Republican challenger J.D. Hayworth.

One reason that most people don't know these candidates: Three out of the four weren't even in the race until late April.

The last-minute rush came as polls showed that Hayworth might give McCain a real challenge this year. But as Arizona's senior senator steadily pulled away from Hayworth, it looks increasingly likely that McCain will be the GOP nominee—and increasingly unlikely that a Democrat will be representing Arizona in the U.S. Senate next year.

John Dougherty is talking to a few dozen people on a Friday night at downtown's Hotel Congress. The topic: Ending the war on drugs.

Dougherty lays out his case: The war on drugs has been a miserable failure. Decriminalizing marijuana would have a number of benefits, from hurting the pocketbooks of drug cartels to easing the strain on the criminal-justice system.

"I'm going to go after issues that are important, whether they're popular or not," Dougherty tells the crowd.

Dougherty is not shy about taking positions on the issues. The 54-year-old freelance journalist gained an understanding of government by spending more than two decades covering politics, including 13 years at the Phoenix New Times. At the New Times, Dougherty untangled former Gov. J. Fife Symington's finances, before Symington was forced to resign following a conviction in federal court on numerous counts of fraud. (Symington's conviction was later overturned on appeal.)

Dougherty has tangled with McCain before; he first wrote about McCain's connections with Arizona financier Charlie Keating when Dougherty worked at Ohio's Dayton Daily News. That reporting, in part, led to the Keating Five scandal that included ethics investigations of McCain and fellow senators Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, John Glenn and Donald Riegle in November 1989.

Dougherty will bluntly rattle off his position on any issue you care to bring up.

Afghanistan? "A mess," but U.S. troops need to remain there to secure the Pakistani border—and make sure that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are secure. "We can't pull out in the middle of the stream here."

He wants to continue "winding down" the U.S. presence in Iraq and drill down into Pentagon spending to find waste and trim budgets.

SB 1070? It's a "wrong-headed, short-sighted, fear-driven reaction to the failure of the federal government to do what it was supposed to do." He wants a comprehensive immigration-reform plan that includes a fine or community service for people who have entered the country illegally, as part of the process of normalizing their status. He says driving them out of the state is only going to further cripple the economy.

The $870 billion stimulus plan? It was necessary, given the state of the economy when Obama entered the White House. Without it, "we would be in a much worse situation than we are right now."

Taxes? He wants to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for American families that earn more than $250,000 a year, and see the return of the estate tax.

Energy? He supports investing in solar and wind to reduce carbon emissions and wean the country off of an oil addiction that's sending dollars to America's enemies, and causing environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon mess in the Gulf of Mexico.

Health-care reform? He supports the plan passed by Congress this year as a first step toward a single-payer system. "It's the foot in the door toward further change," he says. "It's nowhere near where it needs to be."

You won't hear Rodney Glassman talking about ending the war on drugs in his stump speech.

Glassman dodges controversial topics and focuses nearly every comment on McCain. What does Glassman think of SB 1070? The state's immigration problem "stems from 28 years of disregard from John McCain."

In interviews, Glassman doggedly sticks to his message, repeatedly telling reporters about his plans to "raise a family in Arizona."

He is cautious when diving into policy questions. He's reluctant to say, for example, that he supports allowing people who have come into the country illegally to remain here after paying a fine and passing a background check, rather than requiring them to return to their home countries—even though that's apparently his position.

On Afghanistan: "I was troubled by the decision to send more young men and women overseas without having a plan for completing that task." On whether Iraq can remain stable without U.S. troops: "Time will tell."

Should the Bush tax cuts be allowed to expire? "The tax cuts expire on Dec. 31, and I get sworn in on Jan. 4."

Glassman has been in the race longer than any other candidate and has picked up more endorsements than anyone else. His supporters include Congressman Raúl Grijalva, labor activist Dolores Huerta, the Arizona AFL-CIO and several other labor unions, the Arizona Education Association and Planned Parenthood.

Glassman boasts that he's the first Democrat to ever raise more than a million dollars to go against McCain in a Senate race, although $500,000 of that money came from his own pocketbook, which is flush with a family fortune. Glassman grew up in the California's San Joaquin Valley near Fresno in a wealthy farming family.

Glassman, who became an Eagle Scout at age 13, loves to chase merit badges. At age 32, he's earned five degrees from the UA, including master's degrees in both business and public administration, a doctorate in arid-lands management, and a law degree. After getting the law degree, he joined the Air Force Reserve as a JAG.

On the side, Glassman has been working in Southern Arizona politics. His first foray into local politics: trying to convince the city of Tucson to buy his family's ice-skating rink. (He was unable to make the deal and later sold the rink, which eventually folded.)

Glassman, who first registered as a Republican and later switched to independent before settling on the Democratic Party, also reached out to branches of the local power structure. He served as Grijalva's liaison to the business community, building connections on the left. But he also dabbled in Tucson's real estate, homebuilding and banking sectors, and even briefly worked for restaurateur Bob McMahon to build social ties on the right.

When the Ward 2 City Council seat opened up in 2007, Glassman showed how deep his Rolodex was by raising more than $45,000 in contributions of $20 or less.

Glassman, who easily won that election to the Tucson City Council, started strategizing about running for the U.S. Senate just halfway through his first term.

He had hoped to avoid a bruising primary fight—and until just a few weeks before the filing deadline, it looked like he had succeeded.

But in May, as the debate over Arizona's SB 1070 began to heat up, Randy Parraz climbed into the race.

Parraz, 43, grew up in California. His father, a deputy sheriff in Sacramento who helped launch the National Latino Peace Officers Association to combat discrimination against Hispanic officers in the 1970s, was killed in a car accident in 1979, when Parraz was just 11.

Parraz still remembers a huge turnout for his father's funeral.

"I learned at a very young age about leaving a legacy, and how you can touch people's lives through politics," Parraz says.

Parraz got involved in politics when he attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned undergraduate degrees in history and sociology, and a law degree. He traveled to Harvard to earn a master's degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Parraz worked as a community organizer in Northern California and came to Arizona to head up the state's branch of the AFL-CIO. After a divorce, he moved back to California, but later returned to Arizona to be close to his two children.

When he returned, Parraz helped organize Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, a group that targeted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's push to apprehend illegal immigrants.

Much of Parraz's campaign is built around Hispanic issues.

"I just felt there was an opening to have more of a progressive voice in the state," Parraz says. "Part of my goal for this election is to go into Latino communities to energize that vote."

Parraz says immigration reform should be market-based. He would allow people who have entered the country illegally to obtain legal status and remain in the United States. He sidesteps the question of whether he'd require them to pay a fine.

He's skeptical about sending National Guard troops to the border.

"You know what they're going to be doing all day?" Parraz asks. "Nothing. They're going to be watching the border, and there's going to be nothing going on. People who are being paid to smuggle people across the border are going to regroup and say, 'OK, what's the next route?'"

Parraz supports the Democratic proposal to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for families that earn more than $250,000, and says he would have voted for the health-care reform package that passed earlier this year.

"I'm not going to repeal and replace anything," he says.

He thinks he can bring out Latino voters in the fall who have stayed at home on Election Day in the past.

"Right now, we don't need a traditional politician," Parraz says. "We need someone who knows how to organize, who knows how to fight, who knows how to frame issues and engage people and organize people."

Cathy Eden was the last candidate to get into the race, launching her campaign just a few weeks before nominating petitions were due.

Eden brushes aside any notion that she got into the race late.

"The only day you're late is the day you have to turn in those nominating petitions," she says. "I wasn't late. I was a day early."

Eden, 60, has more experience than her Democratic opponents in state and local government. She worked as Coconino County manager from 1983 to 1988 and then served as the head of the Department of Administration for Democratic Gov. Rose Mofford from 1988 to 1990. She took over the Arizona Department of Health Services for Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull in 2000 and remained in the position when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano took office. Eden left the job in 2005.

She also served two terms in the Arizona House of Representatives, from 1990 to 1994. She fondly remembers her days serving in the Legislature.

"Arizona worked," she says.

After leaving the Department of Health Services, Eden landed a gig heading up the Bob Ramsey Executive Education Program at Arizona State University's College of Public Programs.

Eden, who has more experience in the health field than her challengers, says she was "very happy" to see health-care reform pass earlier this year, although she says it's not "a perfect piece of legislation." She says the country "is not ready" for a single-payer system.

Eden says the economy is her top concern. She wants to offer new tax credits for homebuyers to stimulate the homebuilding industry, along with tax credits for energy companies to build solar-power plants.

She says she would have supported the stimulus plan.

"Most economists say it was needed so that we didn't go into another Great Depression," Eden says. "It's not a great way to go, but it's what we had to do to avoid disaster."

She supports allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for American families that earn more than $250,000 a year.

Eden supports the move to put National Guard troops on the border, but wants to see comprehensive reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who have entered the country illegally.

"We have to have a path to citizenship," Eden says. "We have to be able to stop the crime on the border. We have to be able to live and work together."

Eden wants to see military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan end as soon as possible.

"I hate war at any cost," she says. "I was raised in the Vietnam era, and the idea of our kids over there makes me very uncomfortable."

Eden says her experience makes her the best candidate to face John McCain in November.

"Arizona is in a tough spot right now," Eden says. "We need people to stop the partisanship and find someone who can get things done. I have a track record that shows I can come across party lines and work hard on things, and make things happen."

More by Jim Nintzel

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