Arizona GOP showdown heating up

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: April 21, 2010
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WASHINGTON — When Arizona’s bitter Republican primary election arrives in August, it is likely to be 102 degrees in the shade, of which there is little. It is the kind of weather in which only the hearty and highly motivated venture outdoors — Gila monsters and tea party activists. Which may not be good news for Sen. John McCain, who is generally disliked by the latter.

A recent poll puts McCain just five points ahead of J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman and radio talk show host who aspires to be Arizona’s Samuel Adams. McCain operatives dispute that the race is this close, but they cannot dispute that McCain is running in a political environment in which absolutely anything could happen to an incumbent.

Hayworth’s 12 years representing parts of the Phoenix suburbs have been described by his former colleague Dick Armey as a "fairly short, undistinguished congressional career.” But Hayworth attracted national attention after an epiphany of sorts in 2005. Though he had previously sponsored legislation to create a guest worker program, Hayworth became a militant foe of Mexican immigration. Not just illegal immigration. Hayworth proposed a moratorium on legal immigration from Mexico. Hayworth warned of activists who would create an Aztec state on the ruins of American sovereignty in the Southwest. He voted against an anti-immigrant measure — which, among other provisions, prohibited religious charities from aiding illegal immigrants — because he thought the legislation was too soft.

From 2004 to 2006, Hayworth’s share of the vote in some Hispanic-influenced precincts dropped by more than 20 points, and he was carried away in the national anti-Republican deluge. Hayworth now presses his anti-immigration message in a primary challenge to McCain — contesting for the right to run for the Senate in a state that is about 18 percent Hispanic. To this appeal, Hayworth has added a "birther” message accusing President Obama of "identity theft.”

Tea party leaders have been understandably reluctant to endorse a candidate likely to embarrass any movement elastic enough to include Hayworth. Both Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Sen. Jim DeMint have declared themselves officially neutral in the Arizona Republican primary.


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