Why John McCain isn't in more trouble for Arizona Senate primary
Sen. John McCain's record as an immigration reformer doesn't seem to match a state that's taking a hardline stance on illegal immigration. But the senator is managing to fend off a challenge from his right ahead of Tuesday's GOP Senate primary in Arizona.
The whispers in the spring were that Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party's presidential candidate in 2008, was vulnerable to an upset from the right when he sought reelection to the Senate this year. Now, in the home stretch toward Arizona’s primary election on Tuesday, such talk has largely faded.Skip to next paragraph
Senator McCain commands a solid lead in polls over former US Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who defines himself as a candidate of the "tea party" movement, and Jim Deakin, a political newcomer who is in third place.
In state where a crackdown on illegal immigration is widely backed by voters, McCain's record of working with Democrats to redesign US immigration policy might not go down easy. It is just the kind of stance that the energetic tea party activists here derided. Moreover, he is a 24-year incumbent working to preserve his seat amid widespread anti-incumbent sentiment.
Given Mr. Hayworth’s all-out challenge, McCain's response has been to shift to the right, including on immigration issues. The senator endorsed the state's controversial new immigration law that the Obama administration has challenged in court, and lately he has pushed mainly for tighter border controls, forgoing his role as a unifying force between Democrats and Republicans seeking bipartisan immigration reforms to legalize illegal immigrants. “Complete the danged wall,” McCain says in one of his campaign ads as he strolls next to the metal barrier between the US and Mexico.
By moving away from some of the more independent views that earned him admirers and the "maverick" label but that angered far-right Republicans here, McCain has strengthened his standing with the mainstream Republican base, says William Dixon, a political scientist at the University of Arizona. “Some of those conservative Republicans who were upset with him years ago now are saying he’s taking the right positions.”
Hayworth is not giving up the race just yet, though. At a weekend tea party rally near the border, McCain's rival called the former presidential candidate a “shape-shifter” who can’t be trusted.
“We will carry the day because in the final analysis voters want to have a consistent United States senator who is conservative, who means what he says and says what he means,” says the one-time talk radio host.
Like Hayworth, there are others who don't buy the notion that McCain has given up on enacting comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. For instance, Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee (ALIPAC) announced Thursday it’s mobilizing a network of volunteers to dial up voters before the primary and “warn them that John McCain’s amnesty plans will destroy America’s borders and probably the nation.”