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08.25.10

A Lost Opportunity

What did Arizonans miss? Samuel P. Jacobs says it was a chance to see John McCain square off against his journalistic nemesis.

Last night was a tough one for reporters. In Florida, Rick Scott, the wealthy health care executive, triumphed over Bill McCollum, an old Republican party hand, in the GOP gubernatorial primary. The win went against the conventional wisdom that Tuesday would be a good night for old party hands. Same deal in Alaska, where Sarah Palin's chosen candidate is holding on in a race that he was never said to be in. In Arizona, it was a bad night for one reporter in particular: John Dougherty. With 80 percent of the votes counted, Dougherty, one of four candidates competing to be the Democrat’s nominee in the Arizona Senate battle, was stuck in third-place. Rodney Glassman, a Tucson City councilman, was given the honor of squaring off against the no-longer Maverick.  

The old joke was that John McCain’s political base was the media. If that’s the case, John Dougherty was some kind of backslider. A long-time investigative journalist, Dougherty decided to quit the reporting game to take a shot at politics. Of course, no Democrat was likely to see any money flow in from outside the state, as no one in Washington truly believes McCain is vulnerable in deep red Arizona (this despite the scare that conservative radio talker J.D. Hayworth seems to have put into the former presidential candidate).  

“He doesn’t suffer fools,” Dougherty's former editor said. “Unfortunately, in Arizona, he’s surrounded by them.”

Even still, Dougherty’s loss feels like a missed opportunity. Anyone who has a rooting interest in good politics—not the least, any reporter—would have relished watching the 53-year-old who made a name for himself with his incisive reporting on Arizona officials and government misbehavior standing at the stage debating John McCain. After all, it was Dougherty, while working at the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, who first put the Keating Five Scandal, one of the darkest chapter's in McCain's political life, on the map. Having the state’s campaign challenger also be one of it's best opposition researchers would have been good fun.  

Dougherty spoke with The Daily Beast as his campaign was just getting started. He said he and McCain didn’t disagree about everything. In fact, some of his tough reporting on Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a McCain nemesis, elicited a congratulatory phone call from the senator.  

“He doesn’t suffer fools,” Dougherty's former editor told us. “Unfortunately, in Arizona, he’s surrounded by them.”  

Yes, any Democrat is on a fool’s errand taking on McCain, but we've missed out on what could have been an enjoyable one.

Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.