The Skinny 

BUSH LEAGUE: Fund-raiser-in-chief George W. Bush rolled through our fair state last week as part of his Gulf War II promo tour, pushing the Iraq attack and picking big bucks from GOP pocketbooks. Dinner alone cost $700; for another 10 grand, you got a photo op with George himself. Sure, it's a step up from getting a snapshot of yourself with Penthouse Pet Honey Meadow at TD's Showclub, but it's still a lot to pay for a ego boost.

But there are plenty of GOP stalwarts with low self-esteem and fat wallets. GOP insiders are boasting the event raised somewhere around $2.5 million, which likely makes it the biggest fund-raiser in Arizona history.

But hey, George W. is all about breaking records. In the first nine months of the year, he raised more $126 million for the cause. In his best year--2000--Bill Clinton only raised $105 million. Guess people will shell out top dollar to see the guy who returned honor and dignity to the office.

Friday night's take will be split between Salmon's gubernatorial campaign and the Arizona Republican Party. We're told Salmon will end up with roughly $700,000; there's no reason to give him any more, since Democrat Janet Napolitano and Independent Dick Mahoney are eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match once Salmon raises more than the $614,930 they started out with under the Clean Elections program. The harder Matt works, the more they get.

That's why the party will get the lion's share of the evening's contributions to use on various get-out-the-vote efforts.

The Democrats have their own celebrity guest coming later this month, when Slick Willy returns to Tucson. You'll hear all kinds of reasons why he's coming to town, but we think it's really because he needs to experience another chile relleño at Mi Nidito.

Clinton may be overshadowed by the appearance of President Josiah Bartlet, the Democrats' favorite parallel universe commander-in-chief played by Martin Sheen on The West Wing. Both men will be raising money for the Democratic Party, since the Democratic slate is all running under the Clean Elections program. That means the party will have its own war chest for voter outreach. You're already seeing the party spend money on those ads attacking Salmon's Washington record.

The consultants call those ads "third-party advocacy." It's part of the growing trend of independent campaign committees to jump into races, generally to create hit bits to push up a candidate's negative rating. With Clean Elections limiting what candidates can spend, expect to see more of these in the future.

PHONY CALL: Speaking of third-party advocacy, a particularly vile attack against Attorney General Janet Napolitano came via a phone bank last week.

The ad purported to be from one Sarah Phillips, who said she'd given her baby up for adoption, only to learn that the lil' tyke had ended up in a home with two gays. Oh, the horror! Sara claimed she tried to get her baby back, only to be blocked by DES because Napolitano supports gay adoption.

The call was absolute bull, of course, but it may not qualify as an independent expenditure against Napolitano. How come? Because it never advised anyone to vote one way or the other. The sleazy hit had the simple motive of driving up Napolitano's negatives.

There's no telling how many folks got the call, or who paid for it. But it was such a low blow that even Salmon's campaign was publicly disavowing it.

With this kind of crap going on, we can see why moderate Republicans are leaning toward Napolitano.

LEARNING CURVES: Speaking of crossing party lines, Republican Keith Bee is supporting Democrat Jay Blanchard in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Blanchard tells The Skinny he's grabbed an endorsement from Bee, who lost to Tom Horne in last month's GOP primary. Now there's some disciplinary action for you.

Horne won the race by spending more than $400,000 of his own money on a campaign hammering incumbent Jaime Molera with claims the appointed superintendent hadn't properly enforced the ban on bilingual education. It was a horribly distorted simplification, but it worked--at least in the primary.

But a recent poll from Phoenix PBS affiliate KAET shows the general remains a tight race. Horne led Blanchard 32 to 27 percent among those polled, but among the most likely to vote, Blanchard had the advantage, capturing 34 percent to Horne's 31 percent. Obviously, there are a bunch of folks who haven't made up their minds yet.

Here's something for the undecided voters to consider: There's a lot at stake now that the Department of Education has authority to take over schools that are labeled "underperforming." Under the established criteria, which related to test scores and other ratings, up to a third of Arizona schools could be judged failures. So do you want a blowhard or an experienced educator heading up the department?

IT'S ELECTION MONTH: Early voting begins today, so if you're a high-propensity voter, expect a deluge of propaganda in your mailbox.

Spurred by aggressive campaigns to lock in support before the official election day, Pima County voters requested a record 38,545 early ballots for the September 10 primary. But only 65 percent of those early birds cast early ballots. Some of those folks may have voted on Election Day, but the trend shows that roughly a third of the folks who request early ballots don't end up turning them back in. So much for making voting more convenient.

To request your early ballot, call 740-4330 before Friday, October 25.

If you haven't already registered to vote, the cut-off is this Monday, October 7. Registration forms are available at local libraries, post offices, town halls, and party headquarters. Or you can even download a registration form at http://www.recorder.co.pima.az.us/.

ACCENT ON UNHAPPINESS: Since July 1999, 12 Features reporters have left the Arizona Daily Star more or less unhappily: Renée Downing, Ken Keuffel, Jr., Jennifer Lee Carrell, Edie Jarolim, RuthAnn Hogue, Jim Purdy, Ed Severson, Charlotte Lowe-Bailey, Elyssa Andrus, Gene Armstrong, Bryn Bailer and Larry Cox. Of these, at least four simply packed and left without another position lined up; others searched frantically for new jobs while hanging on in an increasingly brutal environment; one, Severson, retired. Hogue is suing, and rumors of a suit from another source are in the air.

The latest defector is Cox, freelance antiques columnist and book reviewer, who went to the Citizen after several colleagues told him that hatchetwoman/line editor Valerie Vinyard had called him names in the newsroom.

In last few years, the Star Features department--excuse us, team--also lost two other long-time staffers--Raina Wagner and Tom Turner--under happier circumstances. In the face of this hemorrhagic loss of personnel, the Star has either filled positions with young, cheap J-school graduates, or with no one at all.

Reportedly, the atmosphere in Features--regularly improved by Vinyard's loud, graphic accounts of her off-hours activities--became even more bizarre after Accent/Features Editor Maria Parham called a meeting the first week of September. She reportedly opened the meeting by sobbing, then told the staffers she'd assembled, including several reporters and two assistant editors, that the paper was being threatened with yet another lawsuit. Lawyers reportedly are interested in whether she actually said, "If you want to continue to get a paycheck from this paper, you won't talk."


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