Roll Call writes that former Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s all-but-official primary challenge to Sen. John McCain has already started to re-ignite long-simmering tensions within the state’s Republican faithful.
Those divisions — combined with both men’s reputation for bare-knuckle politics, a volatile electorate and a state in financial crisis — equal a recipe for one of the country’s fieriest political contests of 2010.
McCain’s campaign has already signaled that the issue of fiscal conservatism is where it plans to do battle, running radio ads last week in Arizona dubbing Hayworth “one of the biggest spenders in Congress.”
Hayworth’s advisers say they are prepared to go head to head with McCain on spending issues.
Hayworth spokesman Jason Rose said there is “hypocrisy” in McCain touting a conservative record on spending when he supported bailing out the banking and mortgage industries in 2008.
However, Rose said the Hayworth campaign expects illegal immigration to continue to be a hot-button issue in the campaign, in addition to the economy and spending. “In Arizona you can’t ignore the Republican animus against Sen. McCain on immigration, especially when you have someone like Sheriff Arpaio supporting J.D. Hayworth,” Rose said.
Hayworth certainly has his supporters, most of whom make up a wing of the state GOP that has long been critical of McCain for taking “maverick” positions and working across the aisle on things like amnesty, campaign finance reform and climate change legislation.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) cited those differences in endorsing Hayworth on Sunday.
And Rob Haney, Maricopa County Republican Party chairman and a longtime McCain nemesis, said conservative activists are rallying around Hayworth. “We’ve been begging J.D. to get in the race,” he said. “We will campaign to our utmost for J.D.”
Haney said Hayworth easily won a straw poll at the county Republican Party’s most recent meeting; McCain came in fourth, behind Chris Simcox, an activist against illegal immigration, and another little-known GOP candidate.
The Arizona Republican Party is remaining neutral, though McCain has had his share of battles with Chairman Randy Pullen, who has also been active in politics against illegal immigration.
A new poll released today by the Behavior Research Center showed a mere 40% of Arizonans approve of the job McCain is doing for them in D.C. And a Rasmussen Reports statewide survey of Arizona Republicans in September found that 61% thought McCain was out of touch with those in his own party.
The Maverick will have trouble mending the fences he has allowed to go too long without basic maintenance.