But within a few weeks of my decision to run, two more Democratic candidates jumped into the race. Randy Parraz, 43, a union organizer, hoped to mobilize Latinos who were angry over the anti-immigration law. Armed with a University of California-Berkeley law degree and a master's from Harvard, Parraz also brought years of community organizing experience to his campaign.

Cathy Eden, 60, was quietly backed by old-guard Democrats in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. A former state legislator who headed state agencies under Republican and Democratic governors, Eden also had support from Napolitano's get-out-the-vote foot soldiers, the Phoenix firefighters' union.

Suddenly, I was in a four-way primary with each competitor having at least one element of the classic Democratic candidate: Parraz, the union organizer with national funding opportunities; Eden, the political insider with boots-on-the ground support; and Glassman, the self-funded millionaire.

So the first lesson I learned was that one old adage applies especially to politics:

Expect the unexpected.

Without the money and staff for a traditional campaign, I had to gather at least 5,124 valid signatures from registered Democratic and independent voters by May 26 to qualify for the ballot. Collecting signatures on a clipboarded petition is a sketchy business at best. I was lucky because I had about 50 volunteers, ranging from college students to retirees; together, we collected more than 4,000 signatures, which means that we probably contacted close to 40,000 people. I also hired a couple of companies that employ teams that are paid for each signature they collect; I spent close to $24,000 on this, mainly out of my own pocket.

Most signature-collectors are honest, but there are some scammers. I watched how the paid collectors handled my petition and discovered that some were also pushing petitions for my competitors, which is illegal. When I confronted one in Tempe, he threatened to "stick me" if I kept hassling him. I kept hassling him, and he dropped his pants on a busy downtown sidewalk and gave me a full moon. Welcome to Arizona politics!

Asking people to sign a petition is an education in itself: I learned how to hone a pitch, engage potential voters and accept rejection graciously. I constantly reminded myself: Smile! The day before the May 26 deadline, we submitted 12,500 signatures to the Arizona secretary of State. I was on the ballot.

There wasn't much time for the rest of the campaign, since Arizona's mail-in voting began on July 29, and more than 60 percent of the ballots would be cast before the Aug. 24 primary. I needed to make a statewide impact quickly, but the Phoenix and Tucson news operations were virtually ignoring the Democratic primary. McCain's battle with J.D. Hayworth for the Republican nomination hogged all the limelight.

Forced to act as the campaign manager as well as the candidate, I developed a strategy that set me apart from my opponents: Use my journalism skills to develop a fact-based platform. Dump the bob-and-weave of political doublespeak, answer all questions directly and confront volatile issues. Use open-source software to build a campaign website, exploit social networking and YouTube to further spread the word, and rely strictly on volunteers.