Facing tight Arizona fight against rebel, Tea Party ‘darling’ challenger
Republican lawmakers hoping to return to power in November must first prevail in battles in states like Arizona, where veteran Senator John McCain is locking horns over his seat with a “Tea Party” upstart.
McCain, 73, headlined the Republican ticket in the 2008 White House race, losing in the historic poll to Barack Obama.
And two years later, his hopes look even dimmer in the fight for his 22-year senate career against John David “JD” Hayworth, darling of the anti-government Tea Party movement.
A right-wing former congressman and radio host, 52-year-old Hayworth is thriving in a country where ultraconservative talk radio galvanizes large sections of the right wing movement — bringing him to a virtual tie with McCain, who is seeking a fifth term in the southwestern state bordering Mexico.
Meanwhile, a Ph.D student’s newly published paper points out the “decline of McCain’s Maverickiness.”
At 42 percent in the Arizona race against McCain’s 47 percent, the Rasmussen polling firm describes the race as toss-up with any candidate below 50 percent considered vulnerable.
Other local polling gives McCain much more leeway, with the Vietnam veteran at 51 percent and comfortably atop Hayworth’s 28 percent.
The clearest sign of unease in McCain camp is his rejection of a debate with the Tea Party’s pick, ahead of the all-important August 24 Republican primary.
“You see, things change. Now JD is the real maverick,” Tea Party activist and Hayworth supporter Patricia Fulston told AFP, referring to McCain’s former calling card he promoted for disagreeing with his own party on certain issues.
McCain, however, recently publicly rejected the reputation, to the surprise of critics and supporters alike who have seen him employ the mantle for years.
“That says a lot, don’t you think?” Fulston said.
The Tea Party, taking its name from a pre-American Revolution demonstration in which colonists protested taxes imposed by the British government by tossing crates of tea into the Boston Harbor, mobilized over the last year against President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform and his fiscal policies.
Gaining political traction, the movement has grown to throw their challenges not just against Democrats but also moderate Republicans they consider not putting their foot down to what they see as Obama’s “tax and spend” agenda.
Hayworth supporters fit in with the Tea Party’s main demographic — over 50 and overwhelmingly white, and at a rally last week, they made clear what they saw as the greatest threat — shouting their condemnation of illegal immigration.
The issue remains a hot topic in this southern border state following the introduction of a strict law late last month that outraged rights activists for apparently warranting racial profiling. Yet it still won full-throated backing from many here who see it as necessary deterrent to crime and illegal immigration.
While McCain supports the measure, his rallies take on more of solemn tone, calling out to the voters’ patriotism; Hayworth by contrast is playing the issue for all its visceral, emotional currency.
“Which one of the two McCains do you know?” he said of the elder lawmaker sarcastically, recalling how the veteran sponsored comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 with late Democrat legend Ted Kennedy.
Only last month it looked like the 2008 presidential campaign all over, when Alaska’s Republican superstar and Tea Party idol Sarah Palin stumped for McCain ahead of the primary.
“We’ve come a long way from the 2008 campaign, but one thing that has not changed is my deep respect and admiration for the McCains and my support of… Senator John McCain,” Palin told a raucous crowd in Tucson.
McCain plucked Palin from obscurity in 2008 when he asked her to run as his vice presidential candidate, and she repaid the favor by lavishing praise on the senator as “a man of principle” who is “leading the loyal opposition in Congress.”
But star stumping may still not be enough to stop Hayworth’s attacks of McCain being a RINO — Republican in Name Only — and failing to be conservative enough on immigration and issues like campaign financing and climate change.
“These are serious times, and the change America voted in 2008 is becoming clearer to all of us,” Hayworth told a rally last week.
A Tea Party supporter, waving a US flag and refusing to be identified, told AFP that the movement recognized McCain’s achievements but warned they might not save him.
“We all appreciate what he has done for this country, but it’s time for him to go,” the activist said.
At Washington Independent, Aaron Weiner writes,
In a newly published paper, Ben Lauderdale, a Ph.D. student in PrincetonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Department of Politics, uses a statistical analysis to plot the relative mavericky-ness of various members of Congress. Mavericks, he explained to John Sides, are members who vote Ã¢â‚¬Å“less on the basis of the political dimension that predicts all legislatorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ behavior and more on particularistic factors unique to themselves.Ã¢â‚¬Â In other words, their voting might seem erratic in the context of a rigid political spectrum, reflecting an idiosyncratic willingness to break ranks to support or oppose legislation on specific policy grounds.
So just how mavericky is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who proudly donned and then curiously shed the mantle of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“original maverickÃ¢â‚¬Â? Well, not nearly as mavericky as he once was:
(includes additional reporting by RAW STORY)