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McCain breaks away as critical support eludes Hayworth

Former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth speaks Tuesday, June 1, 2010 in Marana, Ariz. Hayworth is seeking to un-seat U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the August primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth speaks Tuesday, June 1, 2010 in Marana, Ariz. Hayworth is seeking to un-seat U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the August primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Six months of trying to outflank Sen. John McCain from the right produced less support, less money, fewer endorsements and lower poll numbers than J.D. Hayworth and his dedicated followers had anticipated.

First, it was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the tea party icon who endorsed McCain even though her Arizona admirers are largely backing Hayworth. Then it was Arizona Right to Life and the National Rifle Association, endorsements that pack a punch in Republican primaries. Most recently, the revered National Review gave its imprimatur to McCain, though the publication and the senator haven’t always agreed on the issues.

When Hayworth entered the race in January, McCain was at his most vulnerable point in decades. Polling showed McCain had a lead within the margin of error and was struggling to redefine himself as a Republican loyalist. But polls now show McCain with a solid lead over his boisterous challenger.

“I think one of the real successes of McCain’s campaign so far is that he’s been able … to break apart what we all assumed was Hayworth’s conservative coalition,” said Republican political consultant Chris Baker, of the Scottsdale-based firm Blue Point LLC.

Baker said the McCain campaign may have engineered a sort of domino effect: Each endorsement shows the next group that backing McCain is a safer bet than it may have first appeared, and Republican voters seem to be following the same trend.

Lisa Camooso Miller, a former communications director with the Republican National Committee, said groups such as the NRA and Right to Life often support candidates whom they feel have the best shot of successfully pushing their issues. It’s hard to ignore McCain’s three decades in Congress, she said.

“I sure do know there’s a political reality in supporting the ultimate victor in the fight,” she said.

Hayworth has portrayed himself as the candidate of Republicans who have long felt that McCain is far too centrist or liberal on issues they hold dear. But McCain has attacked Hayworth’s conservative credentials, both in and out of Congress, and seems to be getting out a message that Hayworth isn’t as conservative as advertised.

“They don’t see him as a rock-star conservative. They don’t see J.D. the same way J.D. sees himself,” Baker said of Beltway conservatives. “I think he will be a lot better than he used to be. But for these groups, what they know about J.D. is what they saw, and they saw a guy who was, for all intents and purposes, a middle-of-the-roader.”

McCain has focused Hayworth’s reputation in Congress as a pork-barrel spender, a serious offense to many conservatives. And the senator has run an undeniably negative campaign against Hayworth, openly mocking him and attacking his credibility.

The McCain campaign has posted videos online poking fun at Hayworth for questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, suggesting that allowing gay marriage could pave the way for men to wed horses, and especially for appearing in a 2007 infomercial urging people to take advantage of “free money” from government grants.

The infomercial for the National Grants Conferences has been the most damning revelation yet, combining the promotion of government spending with a host of informercial stereotypes. It prompted the popular FOX News personality Glenn Beck to declare that Hayworth’s campaign is over. The McCain campaign quickly released a new online video ridiculing Hayworth, which it dubbed his “second infomercial.”

“J.D.’s gotten himself into some trouble and he’s made some mistakes here, and the McCain campaign has capitalized,” said political consultant Chad Willems, whose client list includes prominent Hayworth supporters like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “Ridicule does work.”

Hayworth said he fully expected McCain to turn his “mudslinging machine” against him. With a record that includes a 2007 push for comprehensive immigration reform, opposition to tax cuts passed by former President George W. Bush and a key role in passing a landmark campaign finance reform bill that bears his name, McCain has a lot to answer for, Hayworth said, and he needs to distract voters’ attention from his less-than-stellar record on conservative issues.

“He cannot run on his own record. He’s got to run away from it,” Hayworth said.

That record, however, has not pushed many conservative groups into the arms of the Hayworth campaign. Many Hayworth supporters were livid when the pro-life group Arizona Right to Life endorsed McCain, despite his support for embryonic stem cell research and Hayworth’s “perfect record” on pro-life issues.

David Roney, a former chairman of Arizona Right to Life’s PAC, said he believes the group — which he left before the endorsement controversy — acted out of political pressure rather than the best interests of the pro-life movement.

“I think they have political ties to the senator that I think clouded their judgment,” Roney said.

Walter Opaska, Arizona Right to Life PAC’s current chairman, said the group has an “ongoing discussion” with McCain over stem-cell research, and still disagrees with him on the issue. But McCain is still a reliable vote for pro-life conservative judges, consistently opposes federal funding for abortion and has voiced his support for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

“We go home with the person who brought us to the dance,” Opaska said.

The NRA endorsed McCain despite his past support for closing the so-called “gun show loophole.” Todd Rathner, a member of NRA’s board of directors and a lobbyist for the organization in Arizona, said McCain has largely repaired his Second Amendment credentials since abandoning the gun show issue with opposition to extending the federal assault weapons ban and Washington, D.C.’s firearms ban.

Those stances were enough for the NRA to back McCain under its “friendly incumbent” policy.

“He lost on the issue, and ever since then he’s been working to repair his relationship with the gun-owning community,” Rathner said of the gun-show issue. “If you don’t allow politicians to redeem themselves once they make a mistake, what good are you doing?”

McCain isn’t as conservative as some would like, but he is conservative enough to win support from groups that some political observers expected to back Hayworth. In a June 28 endorsement article, National Review said McCain has usually been on the conservative side of political controversies, citing his commitment to national security, his opposition to government spending and his votes for conservative Supreme Court justices.

If McCain had a more conservative challenger, National Review wrote, the endorsement might have gone elsewhere. But while Hayworth’s record is conservative, the article read, it isn’t conservative enough to make a compelling case against McCain.

“He may not be Marco Rubio, but he’s not Arlen Specter either,” the editorial said of McCain.

Not everyone is convinced. Many conservatives still denounce McCain over the lead role he took in a 2007 push for comprehensive immigration reform, despite his recent about-face on the issue. The National Border Patrol Council and Phoenix Lax Enforcemement Association, for example, endorsed Hayworth.

Hayworth said he hasn’t sought many of the endorsements that McCain supporters have touted as coups. And Shane Wikfors, Hayworth’s campaign manager, chalked up the Palin endorsement to loyalty to her former running mate.

Some in the Hayworth camp see more sinister reasons behind the lack of support for the former congressman. Hayworth supporters write blog posts about the “McCain mafia” that uses the senator’s clout to threaten and cajole people into backing him. Some observers comment privately that McCain’s broad base of support is the result of hard work — and intimidation.

In Arizona, no one has been on the receiving end of McCain’s wrath more than Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen. Since Pullen openly criticized McCain’s stance on illegal immigration in 2007, McCain has undercut the chairman at every turn.

In February, National Journal reported that McCain compelled the RNC to withhold campaign funds that would normally go to the state party and instead channel them to allies in the Yuma County Republican Party.

Hayworth said people know there’s a price to pay for opposing McCain.

“They essentially run a campaign based on intimidation and implicit, implied threats,” Hayworth said. “People give him a wide berth and the campaign coffers get full.”

McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said the allegations are nothing but unsubstantiated charges.

“It’s what you say when you have nothing else to say, I guess,” Rogers said.

Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, a longtime McCain ally, said he doesn’t think conservative groups have any fear of retribution from McCain. But everyone in politics knows the old adage, he said — “If you’re going to take a shot at the king, you better kill him.”

With double-digit leads in most polls and a hefty fundraising advantage — McCain reported raising nearly $5.5 million by the end of March, while Hayworth said he has raised about $2 million so far — McCain looks stronger than he’s been at any time since Hayworth jumped into the race.

Hayworth said he doesn’t care what the polls say and doesn’t care about endorsements from Washington insiders that he always expected to go to McCain. As conservatives hold out hope that their dream of finally ousting McCain is near, Hayworth isn’t letting up.

“The Washington establishment was going to stick with McCain,” McCain said. “That theme has not changed. It really says more about the way Washington goes, as opposed to the way Arizona goes.”

13 comments

  1. J.D. Hayworth is not a fiscal conservative and the FREE MONEY INFOMERCIAL showed Hayworth for what he is. McCain is a hero that has always stood for the Right to Life and Our Military. McCain has done well succeeding Goldwater and hopefully Jeff Flake or Trent Franks will succeed McCain when he retires. McCain and Kyl are great Senators and honorable hard workers. Hayworth is not!

  2. I wish I lived in Arizona so that I could vote for J.D. Hayworth.

  3. John McCain is a dirty politician who will do whatever it takes to get reelected. He waffles on issues, changes his mind constantly (depending on the way the wind is blowing) and cannot be trusted. One never knows where he stands from day to day. People complain about these kinds of politicians but then reward them by sending them back to Washington.

  4. I support JD Hayworth. I vote. So does my family. My friends vote too.

    Why would any conservative vote for McCain? He has proven himself untrustworthy. Just Gooble his record. He’s a RINO.

    We are in trouble with the Democrat control. This is not the time for voters to listen to the media, polls, and political propaganda.

    Vote conservative and keep our freedoms or vote status quo and reap more of the same disaster.

    Wake up America!

    Let’s be responsible in Arizona.

  5. You failed to mention one other critical element of support: the voters. No amount of infomercials and smear tactics by McCain will change my opinion of this double-talking power monger. I am committed to never again voting for McCain, and if he defeats Hayworth I will either stay home or abandon my conservative principles and consider voting for his democrat opponent.

  6. Interesting quote from Matt Salmon, “If you’re going to take a shot at the king, you better kill him.” And I thought we declared independence so we would no longer be subject to “the king” …just the same it’s a worthwhile quote to keep in mind… :)

  7. JD is losing because he is an oaf.

    We are sick of him and his obnoxious, arrogant attitude. The guy is not bright, he is a huckster, a moron and just a completely annoying person.

    Seriously, JD is Just Dumb.

  8. I will vote for John McCain, and so will everyone I know. JD Hayworth is as twisted as they come. JD has continued to live up to his reputations and has shattered the integrity part of the GOP name. JD Hayworth has wound up in so many sick corrupt scandals and has continued to use his big mouth to try and find a scapegoat. JD Hayworth was a big spender in Congress, JD Hayworth has tried to run a campaign on slogans that do not represent who he is or what he has done. JD Hayworth lies if it is of any financial gain to him and then again, uses his mouth to try and get out of it. JD is NOT the guy to replace McCain, not by a long shot!!

  9. It is astounding how politics work. Since the election both McCain AND our Governor Brewer have been hated by ‘conservatives’ for all their turn coat measures. Now within 6 months thy each luck out (esp Brewer) in the public’s eye. As for McCain, I know first hand those that work for him. He is a feared man… even by those for him. Even if you want out I hear you ‘can’t go’.
    Now I am NOT nec in support for JD but I am CONSISTENT! I WILL NEVER VOTE FOR MCCAIN. EVER. He turned his back on AZ for decades regarding illegal immigration. THEN pushed through the Amnesty BILL!! Now, right before the election, he is telling AZ that Washington needs to address our border!?!? McCain blames Obama publicly for bailouts… yet AFTER OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT BUSH CRIED FOR HIS BAILOUT IT WAS FOLLOWED IN SUPPORT FIRST BY MCCAIN!!! Thirdly only later by Senator Obama. Hipocrisy?! On and on. The point is Republicans laugh at Dems for voting change with Obama while he appointed all the same Dems from the Clinton years. Now AMERICA is ANGRY at BOTH parties! The Repubs have a unique chance to PROVE that we mean to demonstrate REAL change. Yet the coward Repubs are ready to put the SAME life politicians back in. Our economy is blowing up! Yet the Obamas and McCains NEITHER saw it coming! They have no understanding of how we got here or Washingtons role in it. Yet we want to put these people back in. If my office manager made the same mistakes our politicians did she would be out of a job!! Only in Washington do we put liars and poor performers BACK into employment; only because we want to make sure they have a little letter ‘R’ next to their name. If we vote ONLY to ensure a ‘R’ wins then we have truly earned the Government we have. I am DONE with you idiot Americans.

  10. Angry Arizona, you are so very wrong on a few issues. You must only be listening to talking points from JD rather then the facts from Congress. McCain has been fighting for our borders long, long before JD was even in the picture. As for the economy and Mccain, again you are wrong, he has been talking economy for years (even voted against the tax cuts b/c he knew we could not afford it) as a matter of fact, McCain is the 3rd most fiscally conservative member in Senate. America is amazing, America will return to our roots. We are in turmoil and we need checks and balances, something we have not seen since Obama became president. I assure you, McCain is the far better choice. I have researched JD for years now and have learned the guy is beyond pathetic. JD will lie, cheat and steal to make a buck or earn a vote. JD has a terrible history on pork barrel spending and he is not what we need to get our Nation back on track.

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