Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The other McCain on the Hayworth-McCain race: 'Scorched Earth' in Arizona

Some excerpts from Robert Stacy McCain's article profiling JD Hayworth -

Exactly how much the McCain campaign has spent so far won't be known until the first-quarter Federal Election Commission reports are made public in April, but the incumbent ended 2009 with $5 million cash on hand and has invested heavily in attack ads against Hayworth.

"All he has to show for it is a 15-point swing toward me, and we're now down by seven points," says Hayworth, referring to a recent pollby Rasmussen Reports that showed him trailing by a 48-41 margin among likely primary voters -- a surprisingly slender lead for McCain, who was re-elected with 76 percent of the vote in 2004.

But 2010 is not 2004, and in the intervening years, McCain led a legislative push to grant amnesty to illegal aliens -- a very unpopular stance in Arizona, especially with Republican and conservative-leaning independents. (Arizona election law allows registered independents to vote in either party primary.) A Rasmussen poll last year found that Arizona voters considered immigration a more important issue than health-care reform and 65 percent said "enforcing the borders is more important than legalizing the status of those already living here."

The immigration issue has "gotten bigger" in Arizona recently, Hayworth says, after a Cochise County rancher was found shot dead Saturday near the Mexican border, a crime that law-enforcement officials suggest was committed by illegal aliens or smugglers who have made the border an increasingly dangerous place.

The 73-year-old incumbent, however, doesn't seem eager to retire and is wielding all his considerable power to shut down Hayworth's challenge. Taking on the powerful four-term senator (and his wife's influential Republican family) makes fundraising in Arizona a difficult task for Hayworth, as major GOP donors in the state fear the political consequences if it is discovered they have contributed to McCain's opponent.

So far, the most obvious impact of Hayworth's primary challenge has been McCain's election-year rediscovery of conservative rhetoric -- the senator made headlines yesterday by calling for deploying the National Guard to defend the border with Mexico -- but Hayworth suggests Arizonans are suffering from "McCain fatigue."

That may explain why Hayworth is being targeted by what he calls a "scorched earth" campaign from the incumbent. The challenger points out the McCain campaign began slamming him in attack ads even before Hayworth declared his candidacy for the Senate, and contrasts that approach with what he calls McCain's "kid gloves" treatment of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

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