Can McCain deliver his home state?
Even in Arizona his rift with the far right is cutting into his 'favorite son' appeal.
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Most experts say his service to Arizona has been stellar, except for the so-called Keating Five scandal of the late 1980s. Five senators, including McCain, were investigated for meeting with regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, who was trying to save his ailing savings and loan. After hearings ended in 1991, McCain received the mildest rebuke of the five: "poor judgment."Skip to next paragraph
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McCain himself has said it's the worst thing that's happened to him, even worse than imprisonment in North Vietnam. Most experts say he survived it in part because he works well with the press and in part because the Arizona Republican Party stood behind him.
But that, now, is part of their disaffection with him, experts say.
"The religious right that is now so opposed to him think they saved his career by standing up for him [during the Keating Five scandal]," says Bruce Merrill, a political scientist and pollster at Arizona State University in Tempe. "They think he deserted them by moving to the center seven years ago when he ran for president, which you have to do to run. But that is behind some of the hard feelings those on the far right have."
The Arizona GOP is split in its support for McCain, say most experts, though they can't tell how big a faction is disaffected. A recall effort in the summer of 2001 by far-right Republicans had appeared to be gathering momentum, but was abruptly ended after the 9/11 attacks. This spring, in a straw poll for president at a state Republican Party convention, McCain received only about 5 percent of the vote. Moreover, he received just 47 percent of the vote – not high for a favorite son, these experts say – during the February presidential primary here.
But Dr. Merrill draws a distinction between GOP party regulars and generic Republican voters.
"Republican Party leaders have not been terribly supportive of [McCain]," Merrill says. "But the party, being made up of regular Republicans, like him, respect him, and give him very high marks."
Few in the party complain publicly about McCain, but Joe Arpaio, a popular Republican sheriff, tells of being on the receiving end of McCain's wrath.
A rent in the GOP tent
Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County, known for creating a "tent city" in the desert for inmates, clothing them in pink underwear, and feeding them cheap bologna sandwiches, says he first ran afoul of McCain during his 2000 presidential bid. McCain had sought his endorsement, and Arpaio says he replied that he'd probably give it. Then he didn't hear from McCain about a public appearance or announcement for more than a year. Meanwhile, George W. Bush visited the state and Arpaio's tent city, and asked for his endorsement. Arpaio complied.
"McCain found my phone number that night – he called my house but he didn't reach me," Arpaio recalls.
During Arpaio's next reelection campaign for sheriff, McCain endorsed Arpaio's opponent.
They didn't meet again until about four years ago at a baseball game in Phoenix, where Arpaio sat with Mr. Bush.
"McCain was surprised that I was there, next to the president, and he kind of turned away from me," Arpaio says. "He was a little cold."
Arpaio endorsed and served as co-chair of Mitt Romney's primary campaign here. He says he's willing to help McCain now – if McCain asks for his support.
Even if a significant share of GOP voters close ranks and come out to the polls for McCain in November, the bigger question is, what will registered Independents do? McCain has been able to tap into their support in the past, but experts note a great deal of support among them for Obama as well. In Mr. de Berge's latest poll, for example, Independent voters were split evenly between McCain and the Democrats.
"The battleground is going to be over the Independents," de Berge says. "When you look at their position on who can do a better job, they poll 2 to 1 on the side of Democrats…. They are a very fickle bunch of people, but now they lean toward 'throw the rascals out.' "
McCain's big winning margins
U.S. House elections
William Hegerty (D) 31%
John McCain (R) 66%
Richard Dodge (L) 4%
Harry Braun III (D) 22%
John McCain (R) 78%
U.S. Senate elections
John McCain (R) 60%
Richard Kimball (D) 40%
Claire Sargent (D) 32%
John McCain (R) 56%
Ed Ranger (D) 27%
John McCain (R) 69%
Stuart Starky (D) 21%
Ernest Hancock (L) 3%
John McCain (R) 77%
Sources: Arizona Secretary of State; www.azsos.gov/election/PreviousYears.htm