Mesa businessman Wil Cardon branded himself as the anti-politician, an outsider who lacks a “politician’s polish,” as he put it, during a Nov. 15 speech at his new campaign headquarters near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
But the U.S. Senate candidate who is challenging Congressman Jeff Flake for the Republican nomination appears anything but politically naïve. In fact, he sounded very much like a politician.
The event was being pitched as his official campaign launch, even though the wealthy investor jumped into the race three months ago. And during that time, he appears to have had much coaching about what to answer — and what not to answer — at this early stage in the campaign.
Supporters heard a lot about how Cardon would cut spending in Washington, D.C., where “politicians either don’t get it or they don’t care,” and how he would staunchly oppose earmarks, amnesty (which drew the largest applause by supporters) and “Obamacare.”
But Cardon wasn’t exactly big on specifics in the few minutes the press privately had with him before he rolled out to Casa Grande as part of a four-day tour of the state.
He supports securing our nation’s border with Mexico. But specifically what that means or how that is achieved is unclear: More manpower and resources. Enforce the laws on the books. And “perhaps” even a new border fence, he said.
Asked whether he supports strict enforcement-only laws to solve the illegal immigration problem or whether he would be open to a more moderate approach being promulgated by the Mormon church — a faith he shares with Flake — Cardon was ever politician-like.
Clearly it was a question he was anticipating.
“If you read the Mormon statement, they talk, and we as Mormons believe, you obey the laws of the land,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I am totally in line with the Mormon statement. I am a compassionate person, but I also understand you have to obey the laws of the land.”
The rare policy position issued in June by the Mormon church also denounces the idea of mass expulsion and targeting a group of people, while it supports avenues for undocumented immigrants to square themselves with the law while still continuing to work in this country.
The question is important because the state just witnessed the historic recall of one of the most powerful Republicans in Arizona. Senate President Russell Pearce was toppled by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, a prominent Mesa Mormon who ran, in part, on taking a more moderate approach to illegal immigration.
Lewis’ strategists revealed after the election that early in the campaign they relied on local high-ranking members of the church to quietly rally support for the political newcomer — largely because they believe Pearce was at odds with the church. Lewis’ strategists said they believe that Mormon support was a key to toppling the political giant who, until then, was undefeated in his district.
While there are many reasons Pearce lost his seat — the election was open to Democrats and independents, for one — it could also be argued that it was a referendum on Pearce’s handling of the illegal immigration issue as a top policymaker in the state.
In some ways, the Cardon-Flake race is a larger version of that Mesa recall: Two Mormon Republicans from the East Valley battling it out — just on a statewide level.
Asked whether he’s more in the Pearce or Lewis camp, Cardon responded, again like a politician: “I’m not in anyone’s camp,” though he did say he supported SB1070, the famous state-level immigration law authored by Pearce.
There are still many months to go before voters really start tuning into the race. And that’s good, because Cardon will be confronted with the illegal immigration question time and again.
And so will his opponent, who until recently supported “comprehensive illegal immigration reform” that included a temporary guest worker program. Flake’s critics say that amounts to amnesty.
As for Cardon, it was clear the anti-politician theme would carry the day. He began his speech with his mic turned off, and TV reporters quickly informed him of this.
“That’s the first sign I’m not a career politician,” he joked.
— Bill Bertolino is managing editor of the Arizona Capitol Times.