Tucson, Ariz. — Being a veteran congressman is no longer a comfortable situation, says US Rep. Morris K. Udall (D) of Arizona. In the West, as elsewhere, a politician who had served his constitutents in Washington year after year became almost an institution -- widely respected and generally not seriously challenged at election time. Now, Mr. Udall says, longevity in office "is a good reason to get rid of you. Being an incumbent's not all it's cracked up to be."
Udall should know. The influential and very active conthe House Interior Committee, is campaigning hard in what most observers -- and Udall himself -- say is the toughest re-election battle the 10-term Democrat has eve
What is working against the lanky, easygoing Udall is what is working against a number of other top congressional Democratics in this particularly uncertain election year: a widespread voter dissatisfaction that is fueling a conservative drive, and a sense among some of the electorate that the longer the stay on Capitol hill, the more likely a politician is to have lost touch with the folks back home.
For "Mo" Udall, however, the race is further complicated by a kaleidoscopically shifting congressional district.
For years, Tucson has been a Democratic holdout (voters here went for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 instead of native son Barry Goldwater) in a state which grows more Republican ev erythe country which has backed every Republican presidential candidate since 1948.
But in recent years Tucson, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of the vote in Arizona's Second District, has been undergoing a gradual change. Early de Berge, director of the Rocky Mountain Poll, notes that the city is becoming more of a "swing" area than the Democratic stronghold it once was.
Democratic registration here has slipped to approximately 51 percent. That decline is due in part to an influx of Midwesterners, retirees, and white-collar workers which swelled Tucson's population from about 36,000 in 1940 to an estimated 320,000 in 1979. Voters here went for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the last two presidential elections.
As for Udall, his victory tallies have dropped steadily -- from 70 percent in 1968 to 54 percent in 1978. Although the congressman has long enjoyed a hometown-boy popularity (he was a basketball star at the University of Arizona here), a 1979 city survey shows that one in every 10 Tucson households has lived here less than a yealittle, if anything, about UdaCongress.
All these factors have combined to make Congressman Udall a tempting target for the Republican Party, which has recruited Richard Huff, a wealthy Tucson realtor who is making a virtue out of being in his first political race. He claims that he is an ideal candidate because he has no record.
The conservative Huff is emphasizing his anti-abortion stand and has been personally endorsed by the Arizona chairman of Moral Majority. He pounds away at Uda"an East Coast liberal" virtualy out of touch with his constituents.
"the issue defeating Mo Udall," says Huff, "is that he's burned his bridges. People are fully aware that he wears two hats, one in the Second District and one in Washington."
A self-professed "born- again Christian" who boasts tht he is "a product of the free enterprise system," Huff has drawn support from oil, mining, gun, real estate, and business interests. He has also picked up out-of- state support, particularly from Alaska, where there is considerable bitterness about Udall's championing of the House version of the Alastates like Kentucky, where the coal industry has been angered by strip-mining legislation also pushed by the Ari
Although local pollsters and political experts generally feel that a once-tight race now is tipping more than slightly to Udall, both sides think it may be decided by a hair-thin margin.