Many political observers have suspected that Hayworth’s potential candidacy represented an opportunity for the former congressman to raise money to pay off old legal bills, but sources close to Hayworth said he is serious about a potential campaign.
Hayworth, who now hosts a conservative talk-radio program on KFYI, has been in touch with former aides and consultants, assessing how interested they are in helping him mount an insurgent contest against McCain. Hayworth has been in touch with two polling firms, one of which has close ties to McCain’s campaign and another which is known for aiding conservative candidates.
A source with knowledge of Arizona politics said he would be “surprised” if Hayworth did not run against McCain in the GOP primary.
What was once idle chatter touched off by a single poll is now being taken seriously by McCain’s campaign. A Rasmussen poll taken in November showed Hayworth running within the margin of error against McCain.
The latest poll taken in the race, conducted the second week in December, showed McCain with a commanding lead over Hayworth. That poll, conducted by The Tarrance Group – a well-respected GOP pollster – showed McCain with a 57 percent to 36 percent lead over Hayworth. But the poll was conducted for the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, an outside organization that paid for advertisements on McCain’s behalf during the 2008 campaign.
The Foundation is run by Rick Reed, a long-time McCain adviser, and the poll was widely seen as an effort to convince Hayworth to stay out of the race. Still, the survey showed Hayworth is seen favorably by six in 10 Republican voters in Arizona, not too far behind the 78 percent who see McCain in a positive light. Slightly fewer Republican voters – 15 percent – see Hayworth unfavorably than the 20 percent who see McCain in a negative light.
Privately, some former McCain advisers confide they are worried about Hayworth’s challenge. And McCain’s campaign says it is ready for a challenge. An adviser said the campaign is acting as if Hayworth has already entered the race, and McCain is running radio advertisements on stations around the state – including on KFYI, during Hayworth’s show.
Hayworth lost his 2006 re-election bid to the Scottsdale- and Tempe-based 5th Congressional District to Rep. Harry Mitchell, a Democrat, in one of the most hotly contested races of the year. National Republicans would prefer to see him challenge Mitchell, who will face the winner of what could prove to be a bitter primary, than McCain. But the source with knowledge of Arizona politics said Hayworth’s goal has long been a seat in the Senate, rather than the House.
Hayworth would begin a challenge as an underdog, but McCain’s sometimes-frosty relations with the GOP base could make the contest interesting. His leadership on several recent GOP efforts to oppose President Obama will help, but conservatives who care about immigration above all other issues could favor Hayworth’s harder line over McCain’s approach, which leans toward a comprehensive solution.
Hayworth did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment for this story.
- Reid Wilson is editor of Hotline OnCall in Washington D.C. He also is a regular contributor to the Arizona Capitol Times.