Outside of his iconoclasm, McCain's importance in Arizona lies in his pull with the state's huge pool of independents. About 25 percent of the Arizona electorate describes itself as independent, and most are thought to share McCain's political hard-wiring: conservative, but distrustful of blind loyalty to party. The Democratic dream scenario goes like this: If McCain has a public tiff with George W. Bush and the GOP—over the 2000 election, Swift boat ads, whatever—Arizona's independent voters might follow their Obi-Wan Kenobi figure and jump to John Kerry.
Just the opposite has happened, of course. McCain reportedly declined the Kerry camp's entreaties to join the ticket as vice president. He headlined Bush's Aug. 11 rally in Phoenix, which drew 15,000 screaming Republicans, and will speak in prime time at the Republican Convention. McCain can goose the Bush campaign all he wants, but without his explicit endorsement of Kerry, it's hard to see what issue would flip Arizona independents—who tend to be more conservative than independents in, say, Florida.
So to win Arizona, John Kerry needs an unprecedented showing among Latino voters, who remain unenthused about him, and a huge slice of independents, whose champion is pointing the other way. One bit of good news for Democrats is that they managed to knock Ralph Nader off the ballot, arguing that some of his signatures had been collected by convicted felons. And then there's Douglas Wilson, Kerry's newly arrived state director, who engineered Bill Clinton's miracle victory here in 1996. "I understand people look at '96 and say, 'This was a good thing,' " says Wilson. "I'm not some savior, for God's sake." Too bad. For Kerry to win Arizona, it's gonna take a miracle.