When the talk turns to politics in Arizona these days, it's almost inevitable that someone brings up the re-election battle of the Grand Canyon State's long-ensconced senior senator, Barry Goldwater.
And it's nearly equally certain that some will exclaim: "That's a race."
It is such a race, in fact, that political observers say the election, once expected to be a handy victory for Mr. Goldwater, now is "too close to call."
What is happening in this rapidly growing and increasingly conservative sunbelt state "is really a bit of a vision into the future terms of politics," claims Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt. "The people here are eclectic," he says, "with relatively shallow party ties. There is no real following on partisan issues, which means that every election every year is a free-for-all. . . . I think the American political process is headed this way."
Perhaps more important, Senator Goldwater finds himself faced with an aggresive young challenger who has something no other Goldwater opponent has been able to come up with -- lots of money. Self-made millionaire Bill Schulz solved the money problem by digging into his own pocket for nearly $1 million to get his campaign going.
A former Republican himself, Mr. Schulz is widely perceived to have hit Goldwater where he is most vulnerable -- on the question of job performance. Without resorting to personal attacks, Schulz has simply portrayed Goldwater, who has one of the worst attendance records in the Senate, as a man who is no longer representing Arizonans as a senator should.
In addition, in a state where even Democrats are conservative by Eastern standards, Schulz presents an alternative palatable to the average voter, observers say.