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John McCain Poised To Crush J.D. Hayworth In Arizona Primary

There was a time, not too long ago, when it looked like John McCain’s thirty nearly twenty-five year Senate career may be coming to an end. He had lost a Presidential election and, even before that, annoyed most of his friends on the right with his stance on issues like immigration.

Enter J.D. Hayworth, a former Congressman and radio host who was far more conservative than McCain on the issues that were on the front-burner for many conservatives, especially immigration. McCain maintained a lead over Hayworth, but the polls were much closer than they should’ve been for a long-term incumbent and there were many who thought the Maverick was nearing the end, even with the intervention of his former running mate.

Then, a few things happened.

For one thing, people got to know J.D. Hayworth as a guy who made controversial statements about the President’s birth certificate and gay marriage, and who had spent part of his post-Congressional career doing infomercials telling people how to get “free money” from the government. For another, John McCain did the only thing he could do to survive, he moved to the right on issues like immigration, an act epitomized by a commercial in which he finished with the line “Build the darn fence.” That ad, combined with McCain’s connections in the state and Hayworth own mis-steps changed the race forever and put McCain in a position to win a substantial victory in tomorrow’s primary:

J.D. Hayworth sought to capitalize on Arizona Republicans’ anxiety about illegal immigration and the fervor of the Tea Party movement to unseat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

But McCain ran a brutally effective campaign against the former congressman and now is poised to secure a crushing victory over him on Tuesday.

“It’s over with,” said Jim Haynes, who directs the Behavior Research Center, a Phoenix-based polling firm.

Two years after winning his party’s presidential nomination, McCain was in danger of losing his Senate seat in a primary challenge. His bid for the White House had drawn his attention away from Arizona and put a national spotlight on his support for immigration reform — a controversial issue in his home state.

“It was always a long shot, but yes, a shot,” Haynes said of Hayworth’s challenge. “He had some opportunities with McCain’s immigration stance during his presidential campaign.”

To shore up his right flank, McCain drifted away from some of the issues he championed years ago. He gave a muted response to the recent Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions he helped pass on campaign spending. He also stopped pushing for immigration reform and instead touted his support for increased security along the border — including a fence he once opposed.

(…)

The turning point came in June, when the McCain campaign released two TV spots that used footage from a 2007 infomercial for National Grants Conferences which featured Hayworth telling viewers that government “free money grants” were not “too good to be true.”

“It seemed like coinciding with that whole onslaught, all of a sudden you heard nothing from Hayworth,” said Haynes said, whose firm conducted polls before and after the ads aired.

Hayworth eventually responded to McCain’s infomercial ads with a spot accusing the senator of “lying” about his support for the “amnesty bill,” but the damage was already done.

A survey conducted after the infomercial ads went up on the air showed McCain widening his lead on Hayworth. McCain got 64 percent of the test vote, compared to only 19 percent for Hayworth, in a Rocky Mountain Poll by BRC released in July. An April survey by the group showed Hayworth getting 28 percent to 54 percent for McCain.

“The people holding the purse strings saw that McCain was crushing him — Hayworth’s funding dried up,” Haynes said.

Hayworth has spend the closing hours of the campaign arguing to voters that the only reason that McCain shifted to the right is because of Hayworth’s challenge and that, once he’s back in the Senate for what is likely to be his last term in office, McCain will just turn back into the same politician he was before. Hayworth may be right. After all, unrestrained from the burden of having to run for re-election again in 2016, or to even have to address the issue of whether he would run again for at least five years, McCain could do anything.

It won’t be enough, though, because it’s clear that Hayworth was never a candidate capable of beating a politician like John McCain in a party primary. If McCain had faced a challenger other than Hayworth — Congressman John Shaddegg and former Congressman Jeff Flake were both rumored as possibly candidates a year ago — then this probably would’ve been a very different race.

So, which John McCain will show up in the Senate in January 2011 ? Nobody knows for sure, but Arizona Republicans would apparently rather take a chance with him than send a guy like J.D. Hayworth back to Washington.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Doug,

    McCain has been in Congress 30 or so years, but in the Senate only since AUH2O retired.

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  2. Fair point.

    I was assuming he was elected to the Senate with Reagan in 1980 for some reason

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  3. EJ says:

    “Congressman John Shaddegg and former Congressman Jeff Flake were both rumored as possibly candidates a year ago”

    Shaddegg is former, Flake is still in office.

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  4. Looks like we both got it wrong.

    Shadegg still represents AZ-03, although he has announced he will not run for re-election this year

    And, yes, Flake is still in Congress. Not sure why I thought he’d retired

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  5. Jason says:

    Doug,

    This was linked to a post on our site. Could you check and see if you are getting it as a trackback?

    For some reason my comments were being spammed until James freed me! Still not sure why OTB isn’t seeing my links.

    Would you mind checking?

    Jason

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