Three-Way Split

Charge of the lightweight brigade in District 8

Democrats who challenge Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe regularly develop campaign strategies that would make Rube Goldberg envious.

If all the cultural conservative Republicans in Cochise County abandon Kolbe, and we can get 90 percent Democratic turnout on Election Day, and all of Kolbe's absentee ballots get lost in the mail, and 72 percent of GOP seniors get lost on their way to the polling place, and the Moon is the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars ... then I can win this thing!

With Kolbe pursuing his 11th term in Congressional District 8, it's clear that Democrats have essentially been playing Mousetrap without all the pieces. Nonetheless, the sacrificial lambs continue to scamper to the altar; this year, three candidates are fighting for the party's nomination.

Unlike the previous three years--during which the Democratic candidates had active machines, reasonable war chests and some level of name recognition--this year's ballot features a third-string cast that predicates their hopes on the unlikely scenario that state Rep. Randy Graf defeats Kolbe in the GOP primary--or "weakens" him so much that he's vulnerable to a sly Democratic candidate.

There's Eva Bacal, an old-school pol playing the unlikely odds of a comeback; Jeff Chimene, a computer programmer carrying the leftist progressive banner; and Tim Sultan, the slick newcomer trying to make a splash in the local political pool.

Of the three, Bacal has the most political experience. A three-term member of the TUSD school board, Bacal is the wife of Martin Bacal, the Democratic activist who was recently unseated from his post as national committeeman.

After wrapping her TUSD stint, Bacal pursued a law degree and went to work for the attorney general's office, where she worked until earlier this summer, when she gave up the job to campaign full-time. Bacal's emphasis: "Common Sense for a Change." She says she supports families, affordable health care, better education, a healthy environment, decent jobs and wages, troops and a "sensible border policy."

Jeff Chimene is the radical Democrat in the race. A supporter of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic presidential primaries, the computer programmer says he got into the race because it appeared to him that nobody else was running.

"This is the moment," Chimene says. "I'm the candidate to vote for."

Chimene lists his priorities as better rights for workers; single-payer universal health care; turning Iraq over to the United Nations and bringing U.S. troops home; more funding for education from kindergarten through college; more environmental protection; protecting abortion rights; repealing the Patriot Act; and "a sane border policy."

A Tucson native, Sultan has returned to his hometown to campaign for the congressional seat. Sultan, who is undeniably the best-dressed of the candidates, surfed the dot-com wave in the Bay Area in the late '90s, but was wiped out when the wave crashed. He took a job doing constituent service for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and used that to springboard himself into Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Following his graduation from the program in June, Sultan set about putting his new skills to work in his campaign against Kolbe.

Sultan says he supports more funding for education, protecting the environment, providing more subsidies for health care, creating more jobs and "comprehensive immigration reform that protects the U.S. economy while providing a needed labor force, reducing unacceptable backlogs in legal immigrant visas and securing our borders with new technology to detect terrorist crossings."

Sultan has proved adept at raising enough money to fund a slick campaign. At the end of the June, he reported raising more than $50,000, while his opponents had each raised about a grand. He's been able to drop professional mailers and develop the most sophisticated Web site, including short campaign commercials available for downloading.

"The difference is distinct," Sultan says. "People want to see new ideas, new directions."

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