There's an old mob term: "Going to the mattresses." It's when the mob's "soldiers" hide out in an apartment filled with mattresses for days or weeks, waiting until they're told it's time to act.
This election season, Republicans in Arizona and all over the country are going to the mattresses. They're ducking joint appearances with Democrats and avoiding the press whenever possible. The result is, voters are denied the opportunity to learn more about the candidates so they can make informed decisions.
Some of the politicians are obviously biding their time, waiting to bombard their opponents in the final weeks before the election, counting on huge media buys from fat-cat-sponsored groups (with populist-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity) to supplement their campaign coffers. Others are afraid they'll hurt their chances if their campaign slogans are challenged in head-to-head debates. For some, it's a combination of the two.
It makes me wonder -- if Republicans are hiding out from the voters, what do they have to hide?
If you've been following national politics, you've heard of Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and, most recently, Christine O'Donnell, three Tea Party darlings who became allergic to their Democratic opponents and the press as soon as they won their primaries. (Most recently, O'Donnell pulled out of scheduled interviews with Meet the Press and, amazingly, Fox News Sunday a week after her primary win.)
Here in Arizona, the poster child for press- and opponent-avoidance is Jan Brewer. Her famous meltdown during her one debate with Terry Goddard, followed immediately by her stonewalling of the press, made national news. She has declared she never wants to be in the same room with Goddard again – she admitted she only showed up for the debate because there was no other way to get her $1.7 million in Clean Elections cash — and she avoids unscripted questions from the press like the plague.
Here in Southern Arizona, we're seeing the same "Go to the mattresses" mentality. LD-26's Senator Al Melvin is one of the earliest adopters. Months ago, he proclaimed he wouldn't talk to the "liberal media" like the Star and Arizona Public Television.
When Cheryl Cage challenged Melvin to a series of debates, he said No; he would show up at the one mandatory Clean Elections debate and that was it. The public reaction was so negative, Melvin agreed to a second debate, to be moderated by The Explorer's Dave Perry. Since then, the Clean Elections debate has been canceled because both candidates are privately funded. Then Melvin wanted the three House candidates to participate in the one remaining debate, to shield him from a one-on-one confrontation with Cage, and he refused to show up if it was held at the public high school where it was scheduled.
As I write this, it looks like the debate is on. Perry is trying to work out the final details.
LD-26 House incumbent Vic Williams and candidate Terri Proud joined Melvin in pulling out of a scheduled forum in Flowing Wells, and none of the three showed up for the Southern Arizona Disabilities Issues forum, which both Cage and House incumbent Nancy Young Wright attended.
Republicans in other Southern Arizona districts have shown the same aversion to being in a room with their Democratic opponents.
Recently, though, some Republicans have begun coming out of hiding because of the bad press they've received. Melvin, for instance, who originally refused to attend an education forum at Foothills High, changed his mind and showed up. After hesitating, Williams and Proud decided to attend as well.
At the state level, John Huppenthal, the Republican running for Superintendent of Education, once declared he wouldn't be in the same room with his opponent, Penny Kotterman, even refusing to be interviewed with her on public television's Arizona Illustrated. A few days ago, he flip-flopped and said he'd show up for the Arizona Illustrated taping.
Republicans are learning, trying to avoid attention has actually attracted more attention than they expected – and it's not the kind of attention a politician wants.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.