Sheriff's challenger trades pickup for tiny car - East Valley Tribune: News

Sheriff's challenger trades pickup for tiny car

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Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2008 6:32 pm | Updated: 10:44 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It’s tiny and eco-friendly, and it bears the Democrats’ only hope to unseat Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the fall. But is it tough? Surely you can’t be serious.

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Dan Saban, who branded himself the “American Lawman” in his ongoing bid to become Maricopa County’s top cop, ditched his road-worn pickup truck on Thursday in favor of a newly-minted mini campaign-mobile.

But while the hip hybrid may be “green” and economical, political analysts say the message it sends is anything but “tough.”

“You might want to be seen as environmentally friendly, but people also want their sheriff to be strong,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican political consultant. “This does not portray an image of strength.”

Saban’s campaign sent a photo to Valley media on Thursday showing the former Mesa police commander behind the wheel of a new Smart car, one of the tiniest vehicles on the market.

It gets 60 miles to the gallon, measures about 8 feet long from tail to nose and is wrapped in Saban’s blue-and-white campaign logo and slogan.

The campaign said the small model should send the message that Saban is a better money manager than his opponent, Arpaio, who has been in office for 15 years and seen his agency slip in and out of budget troubles.

Saban, who recently stepped down as Buckeye’s police chief, said he also rented the $400-a-month coupe to save gas money and try to draw attention to his campaign, which has been falling far short in donations.

“It’s going to be a cost savings,” said Saban. “Not a huge cost savings...but again, it’s advertising.”

Saban said he drives about 200 miles a day campaigning throughout the county, and his pickup truck added about 50,000 miles this year alone. “It’s an incredible amount of millage,” he said.

The money he will save on gas with the new ride should be big.

But the little car may also point to Saban’s desperation to keep up with Arpaio, a popular Republican politician who calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and occasionally shows off a defunct military tank at news events.

Arpaio is shattering campaign contribution records this year, out raising Saban at a rate of almost 10-1. Polls show the popularity of the 76-year-old incumbent remain strong, despite numerous controversies and accusations of corruption that have plagued his office in recent years.

“What you have here is a candidate who is being massively outspent and is doing whatever it takes to get media attention,” Bob Grossfeld, a Democratic consultant, said of Saban. “Sometimes you gotta keep throwing stuff out there to see what works.”

Saban said he’s also considering using the Smart cars in action inside the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office if he gets elected in November.

Part of the four-month road test is to see if the three-cylinder engine can handle the rigors of minor police work, like parking enforcement and security detail, he said.

“This is a chance to test drive something to see if it’d be practical,” he said.

Coughlin, the GOP consultant, said, however, the photo Saban’s campaign released could backfire on him. A big man in a little car looks out of character for a seasoned police officer.

Coughlin likened it to the infamous 1988 photograph of Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis poking his head out of the top of tank in a staged photo-op.

The image was used by Dukakis’ opponent, George H.W. Bush, to show how out-of-place the former Massachusetts governor would look in the role of Commander in Chief. It worked. Dukakis lost the election.

Looking at the staged press photo of Saban in his Smart car, Coughlin laughed and said: “This is Michael Dukakis in his tank.”

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