McCain Challenger J.D. Hayworth Defines Arizona Race As Tea Party vs. Washington
Hayworth has launched a GOP primary challenge to John McCain less than two years after the Arizona senator lost his bid for the presidency.
The race has quickly become one of the most-watched Senate contests in the country, in part because Hayworth has tried to define himself as a tea party candidate taking on the establishment.
"I think that I'm the candidate of a majority of tea partiers," Hayworth said. "In Arizona, I feel very comfortable with the level of support we've received from the tea party movement."
Hayworth has been traveling the tea party circuit, speaking at rallies and neighborhood meetings around the state and arguing that he's the best candidate to champion tea party values of smaller government, free markets and fiscal responsibility.
McCain's campaign disputes the claim, saying Hayworth supported government expansion as a congressman. The former television sportscaster represented some of Phoenix's eastern suburbs for 12 years.
Still, Hayworth, who hosted a conservative talk-radio program after losing his seat to Democrat Harry Mitchell in 2006, has motivated a corps of conservatives who have been frustrated with McCain's history of working with Democrats to pass legislation.
McCain worked with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., on campaign-finance reform and with the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts on a bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"McCain's served us well for 28 years, but government continues to grow," said Prescott Tea Party leader Michael Patrick Hendricks.
At a tea party meeting in Mesa last month, supporter Linda Pennis wore a button depicting McCain as a rhinoceros with a horn in place of his nose under the caption "RINO Hunters."
RINO stands for "Republican in name only" and is a popular phrase that some conservatives use to criticize GOP members they believe have betrayed the right wing.
"John McCain's got to go," Pennis said.
McCain's campaign argues that, as a congressman, Hayworth wasn't fiscally conservative and supported earmarks, which send taxpayer dollars to projects in lawmakers' home districts. McCain has long opposed the practice, saying it can breed corruption and often directs tax money to projects that shouldn't get it.
McCain has campaigned with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, two of the most popular figures among tea party activists. Hayworth has dismissed their support for McCain as political payback after he helped launch their national political careers.
Hayworth has also hit some snags in his efforts to be seen as the race's tea party candidate. Many Arizona tea party groups have refused to endorse candidates for public office, including Hayworth.
Some say tea party leaders shouldn't be telling supporters how to vote. Others say tea parties would be too much like traditional political parties if they start picking winners and losers by endorsing candidates.
Some even say that neither McCain nor Hayworth has a record of supporting tea party causes.
Shortly after Hayworth entered the race, four of Arizona's largest tea party groups issued a news release announcing they wouldn't endorse in the Senate primary. The tea party should be about ideas instead of candidates, leaders said.
And on the issues most important to tea partiers, "Both McCain and Hayworth's records during their many years in Washington leave much to be desired," Tucson Tea Party co-founder Robert Mayer said in the statement.
Hayworth dismisses the significance of the news release, saying many tea party groups are registered nonprofits and are prohibited by law from endorsing political candidates.