To many Arizonas, Barry Goldwater is -- along with the Grand Canyon -- one of this state's great natural resources. But the state's senior US senator and patriarch of the far Right, running for a fifth term this fall, finds himself in a race that appears so tight political observers here say the election is too close to call.
It is a surprisingly tough challenge for the craggy, one-time presidential contender. For years, Senator Goldwater has been so firmly ensconced in the national and state scenes that he has faced no serious opposition, and would- be challengers haven't even been able to raise money for such a contest.
But this time out the senator's opponent is a self-made millionaire who is plowing nearly $1 millionof his own money into the race.
A former Republican who voted for Goldwater in 1968 and switched his party allegiance four years later, challenger Bill Schulz has used his funds effectively. He won an upset victory in a three-way Democratic primary held just six weeks ago, and he has used that momentum gradually to chip away at the Goldwater lead.
To be sure, the senator (who now predicts a comfortable win Nov. 4) still enjoys wide popularity with Arizona voters, particularly among the conservative electorate in and around Phoenix.
Goldwater's popularity isn't based just on his political philosophy. "He has a magnificent charm and charisma. . . . You can't help liking the guy," Mr. Schulz admits.
What is more, ideas once espoused almost solely by Goldwater -- calls for cutting federal spending and beefing up defense budgets -- are in political vogue. And there is a certain nostalgic appeal when the man once portrayed as a warmonger by Lyndon B. Johnson says, "I'd like to be in on seeing things accomplished that I first advocated 16 years ago. . . . I just want to be around."
But Schulz is giving Goldwater a run for his money. Although he has studiously brought into question Goldwater's record as a senator. He has painted at least the impression of a man who no longer gives his all to the job and who is no longer responsive to his constituents.
Schulz has made an issue of Goldwater's attendance record on Capitol Hill, which is one of the worst in the Senate. And without directly referring to the senator's age or health, he has employed a campaign slogan -- "Energy for the ' 80s" -- which he readily admits is intended as a double entendre. It is an approach that political pundits agree is working, without bringing any nasty overtones to the campaign.
"Barry hasn't paid any attention to the state for years -- and Schulz has made tht stick. . . . He's simply saying that Goldwater's absenteeism is denying Arizona decent representation," observes Earl de Berg, head of Behavior Research Center.
Schulz "now must make a positive sale of himself to voters, not just as a negative sale of Goldwater," Mr. de Berg continues. "if he can make that sale, he'll win."
Because Schulz is a moderate candidate with pro-business inclinations (as owner of nearly 6,800 rental units, he is the state's largest landlord), he has had some problems convincing voters that he represents a clear alternative to Goldwater. Says the senator of Schulz: "Everything I've been advocating for 25 years, he advocates, too."
Still, there are some notable differences, particularly on military issues like the MX (mobile intercontinental missile), which Schulz opposes and Goldwater supports.