Monkey Wrench in the Mix

John McCain has a new BFF: Joe the Plumber! Joe Wurzelbacher made his first steps toward the national stage when he told a campaigning Barack Obama that he was thinking about buying the plumbing business that employed him, but was worried that he'd have to pay higher taxes under an Obama administration.

Obama said Joe the Plumber would have to pay more if he was earning more than $250K annually and suggested the United States would be better off if the country "spread the wealth around."

Sen. John McCain wasn't going to let that kind of socialist talk go unpunished. At the third and final presidential debate, McCain accused Obama of plotting to crush the dreams of people like Joe.

But it turns out that Joe wouldn't be much hurt by Obama's plan because, as we learned after the national media gang-swarmed him, Joe didn't have a plumber's license, he wasn't seriously thinking about buying the business and he was already having trouble paying his taxes because he hadn't taken care of a $1,200 income-tax bill.

McCain's response to learning that Joe the Plumber didn't fit his campaign narrative of the poor ol' guy earning a quarter-mil a year who was going to be socked by Obama's plan? Blame Obama for invading Joe's privacy! Then he called Obama a socialist and unleashed a series of robocalls that reminded people that Obama hangs out with terrorists.

On a campaign swing through Southern Arizona last weekend, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano questioned whether John McCain would stick by his pal: "McCain's been a senator for 26 years and I haven't seen him help a 'Joe the Plumber' yet."

While McCain was winning the endorsement of Joe the Plumber, Obama had to settle for the endorsement of Republican Colin Powell, the one-time darling of the Republican Party. Powell issued a blistering assessment of McCain's erratic campaign, from his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate to his uneven handling of the nation's recent economic meltdown. Conservative pundits saw through all that fancy reasoning and assured America that Powell's endorsement was all about race.

Giffords Tops $3 Million

We've chased off those no-good Washington insiders! Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pulled its hit ad against Republican Senate President Tim Bee, who is challenging Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The DCCC, which had reserved roughly $700K in air time on local stations, decided to leave town altogether after Giffords condemned the ad, saying "personal attacks have no place in this campaign." Big question: Were the D.C. spin doctors mad at Giffords or just leaving because they feel Giffords has a comfortable lead?

Could be the latter, as national congressional campaign experts continue to upgrade the race in Giffords' favor last week.

The candidates also filed campaign-finance reports. Giffords has reported that she raised more than $330,000 between Aug. 14 and Sept. 30. Giffords has raised more than $3 million for the entire campaign and has spent more than $2.4 million.

The Bee campaign reported raising $185,183 in the six-week period ending Sept. 30. That brings his total haul for the campaign to $1,426,833--or less than half of the $3 million that Giffords has raised. Bee had spent $1,360,646 on the campaign.

ScrambleWatch Q&A

District 26 Senate Race

Democrat Cheryl Cage is facing Republican Al Melvin in the Legislative District 26 Senate race. We asked if they supported repealing the state's property tax, which costs the average homeowner less than $8 a month but raises about $250 million a year, and where they would look to cut state spending as the budget shortfall worsens.

Republican Al Melvin

Do you support the repeal of the state's property tax?

I absolutely do.

Since it will cost the state $250 million, what should the state cut to make up for the lost revenue?

Well, I believe we need more tax cuts. I believe that Kennedy and Reagan and the current president have proven that lower taxes generate more economic activity. As we lower taxes, we need to cut wasteful spending. There's a lot of waste out there.

When you say there's a lot of wasteful spending, are there any specific areas where the state needs to dramatically cut back on spending?

I think there's something that can be said for lean and mean. ... There should be a hiring freeze. ... I think we should be looking at a 10 percent, 15 percent reduction in budgets (outside of K-12 education, prisons and the Department of Public Safety) and leave it to the department heads to figure out how to work it out.

Democrat Cheryl Cage

Do you support the repeal of the state property tax?

No. With our state budget so dramatically in the red a repeal would be fiscally irresponsible.

What are some strategies for resolving the state's budget shortfall?

In my business when times are tight the first thing we do is look for areas where we can cut spending. Taking this approach, I would suggest uniform cuts within all state agencies. I would then allow the individual state agencies to decide where these cuts should be made. I would NOT cut education or services to children or seniors.

I also believe that we should rethink our economic base; we are far too dependent on sales tax and construction for our revenue. I will work hard to promote Southern Arizona to solar and high-tech businesses. I also would offer legislation that would allow our universities to accept stock in private companies in return for companies using university developed technology.

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