The Associated Press
PHOENIX Ä As the final week of the gubernatorial campaign approached, Democrat Eddie Basha was laid up with a bad back and Republican Gov. Fife Symington was running an underdog's campaign, urging daily debates.
Basha returned to the campaign trail Friday after spending three days at home recuperating from a back injury he received in a fall Monday while campaigning in Tucson.
The untimely injury to the Democratic nominee forced the cancellation of at least three debates Ä each deemed crucial by the Symington campaign.
The polls have consistently favored Basha. A recent survey of 822 voters conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Political Media Research for The Arizona Daily Star and KVOA television, showed Basha with an eight-point lead over Symington, 49 percent to 41 percent. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Libertarian John Buttrick was not included in the poll. Other surveys have shown him with less than five percent of the vote.
Symington's people felt the governor was the clear winner of the League of Women Voters' debate Oct. 23 in Tucson, the only debate carried on statewide television, and they are anxious to engage Basha before as many audiences as possible before the Nov. 8
But his proposal for a statewide series of debates Ä one a day during the final week of the campaign Ä received a less than enthusiastic response from the Basha camp.
Campaign manager Rick DeGraw said he wasn't anxious to cancel other appearances Basha already has committed to and pointed out that the gubernatorial candidates already had at least seven joint appearances scheduled in the final two weeks of the campaign.
Symington and Basha have raised and spent more than $4 million between them Ä $2.5 million for Symington and $1.8 million for Basha Ä with most of it going for television commercials.
Symington is attempting to close the gap by labeling Basha a "tax and spend liberal" and touting his own record for holding down spending and cutting taxes.
The state's personal income tax has been cut three years in a row and Symington has promised to phase the tax out completely if he is re-elected.
In contrast, he says Basha has proposed creation of new programs that would cost the state at least $1.3 billion.
"Eddie has promised things he cannot deliver, or his plan is to raise taxes," Symington says.
Basha disputes the $1.3 billion figure and has said repeatedly that he would not attempt to raise taxes. He says he can accomplish everything he has promised for about $220 million and that he can raise the money by tapping into the state's budget surplus and streamlining government services.
Education has been the centerpiece of Basha's campaign. He urges creation of "holistic" schools that would serve as community centers where a variety of federal, state and local government services would be dispensed.
He suggested during the League of Women Voters' debate that the government has a "surrogate family role" in raising children.
Symington seized on the statement, which he called "startling, if not horrifying."
"What happened Sunday night ... was a real breakthrough for voters," he said.
Buttrick, whose goal is to receive the five percent of the vote that would automatically qualify the Libertarians for the 1996 ballot, has taken on both candidates on their pet issues.
He criticizes Basha's education proposals as "a fierce defense of the status quo" and says Symington has done far too little to stem the growth of government spending.
Buttrick has proposed privatizing education and most other government services and legalizing marijuana and other drugs, which he says is the most significant step that could be taken to stem the rising tide of violent crime.
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