Hayworth has spent the past month hinting about a possible candidacy, but he’s now made it clear that he will indeed take on the former Republican nominee for president. He has yet to file the paperwork.
“Soon, I will announce formally my candidacy for the United States Senate,” he said at the annual Arizona Republican Party meeting on Jan. 23.
The day before, he announced he was leaving Clear Channel’s KFYI, where he had hosted a talk show for several years.
When he took the stage, he was greeted with chants of “J.D.! J.D.!” from a segment of the party’s grassroots volunteers.
McCain addressed the crowd earlier in the day and was greeted with a standing ovation, although a smattering of boos could be heard.
Hayworth is supported by Republicans who disagree with McCain’s moderate views on illegal immigration and other issues. They view Hayworth as the more conservative candidate.
Battle lines between McCain and Hayworth already have formed.
Jane Lynch, a party volunteer from McCain’s Phoenix legislative district, showed up at the meeting wearing a John McCain campaign button and said she was disappointed Hayworth is entering the race.
“I think he’s hurting the state of Arizona by what he’s doing,” she said. Republicans have a tendency to bloody each other up in primary elections, even if that hurts their ultimate chances against Democrats, she said.
Plus, Hayworth is too “right wing” in his views.
“That’s not who wins the general election in Arizona,” Lynch said.
Others welcomed Hayworth’s announcement.
“I think it’s way overdue,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. “He’d make a great U.S. senator.”
Hayworth frequently lauded Arpaio on his radio show for the sheriff’s willingness to enforce state and federal illegal immigration laws.
Arpaio has a history of clashing with McCain. In 2008, Arpaio endorsed GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney instead of his senator. In 2000, he backed George W. Bush over McCain. In December, Arpaio hosted a fundraiser to benefit Hayworth’s legal defense fund.
State Sen. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican and outspoken critic of McCain’s stance on illegal immigration, called Hayworth a “good-spirited patriot” and applauded his decision to enter the race.
McCain, Pearce said, has “strayed from the basic principles (Republicans) believe in.”
But the campaign will be about more than just illegal immigration, McCain supporters said.
“Amnesty isn’t the only issue,” said Paula Bouthillier, a Peoria Republican.
Many Arizona Republicans who hold elected office said they would avoid endorsing either candidate, for fear that taking sides could lead to problems in their 2010 campaigns.
“I don’t want McCain and Hayworth to get in the weeds in District 30, so I’m not going to get involved in their (race),” said state Rep. Frank Antenori, whose district includes part of Tucson and southeastern Arizona.
State Rep. Rick Murphy, a Glendale Republican, agreed.
“I want to let it play out a little bit. I want to see what kind of campaigns they run before I take a stance,” he said.
Two months ago, a Rasmussen poll showed McCain and Hayworth running about even. But a poll released Jan. 22 by the same firm shows McCain was leading Hayworth in public opinion 53-31. Republican Chris Simcox trailed with four percentage points. The rest of the respondents were undecided.
Rasmussen attributes the huge swing in polling results to news that Sarah Palin will campaign for McCain this year. “Bringing in Palin is significant for a candidate who has always had a troubled relationship with the Republican base,” the firm reported.
McCain has not lost an election since first being elected to Congress in 1982 and later to the Senate in 1986.