A young candidate running a campaign against John McCain built largely on enthusiastic supporters and grassroots energy.
Barack Obama. And, possibly, Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Rodney Glassman.
Glassman doesn't encourage the comparison but doesn't run from it: "Millions of people across the country contributed to a young energetic candidate running against John McCain," recalled Glassman. By way of comparison he related the reaction he's been getting across Arizona. "People are excited at the idea of having a senator working for Arizona, about having a senator who wants to raise a family in Arizona. They want someone who can represent Arizona's future."
It's not only Glassman's youth (he's 32) which lends comparison to Barack Obama. As pundits questioned Obama's experience during the presidential campaign, Glassman seems well aware that his resume, too, will be subject to question in his run for the Senate. When Glassman resigned as City Council member and Vice Mayor of Tucson (Arizona has a 'resign to run' law) he was in his first term and it was, and remains, the only elected office on his resume.
Glassman cast his City Council experience in a positive light, and in response to those who might question whether a one-term stint is enough of a qualification to be a United States Senator, Glassman offered a bit of a history lesson: "Joe Biden was half way through his first term as a councilmember when he decided to run for the senate. And Arizona's own Barry Goldwater was halfway through his first term when he ran for the Senate, and he defeated a powerful incumbent and Senate Majority Leader."
In an interview given shortly before officially submitting papers as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Glassman brimmed with optimism and energy as he discussed his reasons for taking on the challenge of defeating McCain, a nationally known four-term senator and former presidential candidate.
Whether intentionally or not, his reasons for running sometimes echoed those given by Barack Obama. Glassman cited his family's commitment to community service, speaking of his father's involvement on the board of the Boy Scouts and his mother's service on the board of a local children's hospital; Glassman himself is the founder of an Arizona children's foundation.
Glassman speaks of himself as a consensus builder; among the emails he received after resigning from the City Council to run for Senate were two that Glassman says stuck with him.
"One was from a member of our local labor federation, who said they were saddened that I was leaving because they saw me as a voice of labor. The other was from the president of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, who said they were saddened I was leaving because they saw me as a voice of the business community."
That, he said was an example of what he sees as the responsibility of an elected official, whether on a city council or in the U.S. Senate, "to listen to people, and to work with everyone. And when you're fortunate enough to be elected a U.S. Senator, you owe it to your constituents to try and work with all sides."
Has John McCain been doing that?
"I know John McCain hasn't done it because he said so in his own words, he said, 'I will not work with the other side.'' Glassman believes Arizonans are looking for someone with a different approach.
"I meet people across Arizona who want a senator who's passionate about working with everyone instead of being passionate about running away from everyone."
But Glassman's also "proud to be a Democrat," and spoke of his track record supporting labor, the environment and reproductive rights. One of his first backers was Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (early in his career Glassman worked for Grijalva as a congressional aide). Yet Glassman again spoke of listening to both sides of a debate.
"Everywhere I go, everyone's looking for elected officials willing to champion good ideas, no matter who presents them," Glassman said. "And while on the City Council, I gained a reputation for not simply supporting or opposing ideas along partisan lines."
Glassman feels consensus building is the only way to arrive at a comprehensive solution to illegal immigration, the issue that has thrust Arizona into the nation's spotlight. Glassman spoke of the complexities of the immigration issue, saying he understood immigration law as a lawyer and as an active member of the military (Glassman currently serves as a Judge Advocate General, or JAG, officer in the United States Air Force), and the economics of immigration from working as a consultant in Arizona's home building industry and serving on the board of the state's Farm Bureau.
He spoke of the support he's gathered in the Latino community, including endorsements from over 30 Latino elected officials and the backing of civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside Cesar Chavez fighting for farm workers rights (in an official statement Glassman called Huerta's support "truly an honor").
However, despite his campaign's formation of two Hispanic support groups (Latinos con Glassman and Latino Leadership Council) the Democratic candidate sidestepped the controversy surrounding SB1070, Arizona's new immigration law, choosing instead to focus on Washington D.C.'s refusal to deal with the issue.
"SB1070 is an offshoot of Arizona's frustration. The state can't go it alone." Saying Arizona "is pleading for a solution from Washington," Glassman says the blame lies with the state's senior senator
"John McCain failed us. He's taken all sides of the immigration debate while the problem gets worse. John McCain has not been doing his job." When asked what he would do, Glassman again returned to the idea of building consensus.
"I have credibility with a large number of stake holders in this issue. As senator I'd want to bring everyone to the table together. And I'd listen."
Glassman claims a senator who listened to Arizonans would be a welcome change from his likely opponent (when asked about J.D. Hayworth, Glassman said the GOP choice was "between a man who's been in D.C. 28 years and a man who was in D.C. 12 years").
"McCain has never focused on Arizona. He built his reputation on what he doesn't do for Arizona, on the jobs he won't create, on the people he won't help."
Glassman said it saddened him to have a senator "who's proud that he's not focused on helping his own state when we need a senator focused on Arizona's future."
And while he's quick to draw a sharp contrast between McCain's large-scale fundraising and his own local efforts, Glassman is getting a small amount of support from outside of Arizona, with contributions coming from New York to Alaska ("It didn't come from Sarah Palin," he confirmed with a laugh). Glassman said the majority of his contributions are coming from the people he wants to represent, and again contrasts that to his likely opponent:
"McCain has accepted millions and millions of dollars in contributions from the largest financial entities in the country and the largest insurance entities in the country. We're raising money from people who are excited about the idea of someone representing them."
When talking about meeting the people of Arizona the Democratic candidate was expressive and enthusiastic, calling it "a spectacular experience." But Rodney Glassman was at his most animated when he talked about one very specific reason for his candidacy: his own future, and how that impacts the people he wants to serve. "I'm the Arizona candidate. I live here. I'm recently married. My wife Sasha and I want to raise a family here in Arizona."
And striking a tone quite reminiscent of Obama on the campaign trail, Glassman mused what it would be like "if every U.S. Senator was in a position to raise a family in the state they represented."
"If that was the case," said the Democratic candidate, "just imagine how much progress we would have."
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