PHOENIX – Defeated just two years ago as the Republican presidential candidate and with his bona fides as a true conservative again being challenged, John McCain finds himself in a struggle to get even his party’s nomination for another term in the Senate.
Many conservatives and Tea Party activists are lining up behind Republican challenger and former talk radio host J.D. Hayworth, reflecting a rising tide of voter frustration with incumbent politicians. Only 40 percent of Arizonans have a favorable view of McCain’s job performance.
Faced with his toughest re-election battle ever, McCain has moved to the right on several hot-button issues, like gays in the military and climate change, and has built a campaign war chest of more than $5 million. Former running mate Sarah Palin and newly elected Republican Sen. Scott Brown, both popular with conservatives, are pitching in.
Hayworth, who will officially launch his campaign Monday, began using his talk show on conservative radio station KFYI to drum up opposition to McCain.
“You have a consistent conservative challenger and an incumbent who calls himself a maverick but in fact is a moderate,” Hayworth said, outlining what he views as the central choice for conservative GOP primary voters in August.
McCain is launching his own statewide tour, complete with visits next month from Palin and Brown, who already has recorded calls asking Republicans to support McCain.
The four-term senator and his allies also are taking aim at Hayworth. In December, they filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission arguing that the talk show host was a de facto candidate and his radio station was providing a corporate gift by allowing him to campaign on the air. And they’re attacking Hayworth’s 12-year record as a congressman representing the eastern suburbs of Phoenix.
Hayworth said he decided to quit the show and run for Congress in late January after holding “town hall meetings five days a week” with his conservative listeners.
They are angry, Hayworth says, about McCain’s history of teaming with Democrats on key issues.
Hayworth and his supporters are particularly troubled by McCain’s immigration bill, which they call “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. McCain has since backed off his calls for comprehensive immigration reform, saying the government should focus first on securing the border.
McCain faces growing frustration at home. A poll last month by the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center found his lowest approval rating since January 1994.
McCain’s once-powerful support from independents is particularly lacking; just 38 percent approved of his performance. But among Republicans, McCain retains solid support; 51 percent approved and just 14 percent disapproved, according to the telephone poll conducted Jan. 7-22 with 629 registered voters statewide.