Can Hayworth Beat McCain? It’s A Definite Maybe

With Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) being challenged from the right in the Republican primary by former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), a very important question must be asked: Is it possible that McCain could actually lose, a mere two years after he was his party’s nominee for president?

A Rasmussen poll from November 2009 gave McCain only a 45%-43% edge, within the margin of error. McCain began his ad campaign soon thereafter, and by late January he was up by a stronger margin of 53%-41%, the most recent independent data on the race. McCain has also been endorsed by a Who’s Who of the Republican Party — most notably his former running mate Sarah Palin, a hero to many conservative activists.

A Republican source in Arizona told us that McCain is the frontrunner, but it is indeed possible for Hayworth to win. “Absolutely, it’s feasible,” said the source. “It’s a primary, it’s the base of the Republican Party. That being said, the independents can vote in the Republican Party. So it should be a very dynamic and energized race in which either can certainly win.”The source laid out some of the strengths and potential weaknesses of both candidates. For McCain, his experience in delivering for Arizona’s local concerns is definitely a plus, but his support for comprehensive immigration reform did alienate a portion of the GOP base. For Hayworth, he has a definite ability to articulate conservative stances on the issues, but he could possibly end up being outgunned by McCain in terms of fundraising and political organization.

Overall, the source said, it’s too early to make a definite pronouncement on the race: “Right now, polling has shown that McCain is ahead, but polls are only a snapshot of the current political climate, and I think the race is really in its infancy.”

One might expect that Hayworth would have a natural base among Tea Party activists. This was contradicted, however, by a recent decision from the four largest Tea Party groups in the state to remain neutral. “The Tea Party is a non-partisan, grassroots movement that stands for limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility,” wrote Robert Mayer, a college student and cofounder of the Tucson Tea Party, in a joint statement from the groups. “Both McCain and Hayworth’s records during their many years in Washington leave much to be desired on these issues. It is their job to hold themselves up to these values and fight for our votes.”

Mayer confirmed to TPMDC that the Tea Party chapters in question can’t officially make any endorsements, due to their status as 527 political groups that can promote issues but not formally support candidates. But they could do something else if they really wanted to: “We could take the next step and form a PAC. But we’re not doing so, because our intention is to remain neutral, anyway.”

So, we asked, what are the flaws of each candidate, we asked? “J.D. Hayworth had done good things. He voted for the Bush tax cuts,” Mayer explained. “On the other hand, he voted for Medicare Part D, which is the largest increase in entitlements since the 1960s. That’s obviously a big issue for us, because our three big things are free markets, limited government and fiscal responsibility.”

As for McCain, who voted against Medicare Part D? “Well the way I perceive that, for example he voted against Medicare Part D, but he’s also been involved in a lot of regulatory overhaul, McCain-Feingold, things like that,” said Mayer. “I guess the point I’m trying to get across is they’ve both been in Washington for many years. J.D. Hayworth has only been out of Washington for three years. Their records don’t match as much as we would like in a candidate.”

Hayworth spokesman Jason Rose pointed to the fact that Hayworth has been endorsed by a major Tea Party group,, after Hayworth overwhelmingly won a vote of their members. Rose said that it’s Hayworth’s job to earn people’s support, not to expect it automatically — but he certainly thinks Hayworth is the better candidate for the Tea Party movement’s issues. “In terms of whose issues they line up with the most, I believe they’d line up with J.D.’s conservatism the most,” said Rose. “On tax cuts, J.D. was for them, Sen. McCain opposed them. Immigration is a big issue for many Tea Parties. J.D. is one of the national leaders against illegal immigration, Sen. McCain had an amnesty bill with Sen. Kennedy.

“I could go on and on, but it’s our job to earn everybody’s support, not presume to expect it.”

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