McCain, J.D. Hayworth both claim Tea Party backing
Both Arizona Republican primary challenger J.D. Hayworth and moderate incumbent John McCain claimed the support of Tea Party activists on Monday in their knock-down, drag-out fight for to be their party’s pick to run for the U.S. Senate in the state.
Hayworth, a former U.S. Congressman who has campaigned as the “Consistent Conservative,” claimed the backing of a statewide coalition of Tea Party activists and “like minded” conservatives in his flagging challenge to unseat four-term incumbent McCain in the August 24 primary.
Hayworth, a talk show host, has lambasted centrist McCain as a liberal on immigration and fiscal issues. On Monday, he trumpeted the support of 16 Tea Party organizations from across the state, posting testimonials on his campaign website.
“We, as conservative leaders and individuals in Arizona, representing thousands of members … are looking forward to supporting Mr. Hayworth’s campaign in the general election,” Annette McHugh, the leader of the Tea Party Patriots of Glendale, said in an endorsement.
McCain, a war hero who lost to Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, has represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate since 1987. He has run to the right in this year’s Republican primary to head off a strong challenge from Hayworth.
On Monday, the McCain campaign shot back with a ringing endorsement of its own from Tea Party chapters in the state, praising McCain as a champion in the battle to curb wasteful pork barrel spending, and for combating Obama’s healthcare reforms and stimulus spending — all acid tests of ideological purity among conservatives.
“Senator McCain led the fight in Congress against President Obama’s stimulus package, and led the fight on the floor of the Senate against Obamacare. … Throughout his entire career (he) has never requested a pork barrel earmark,” said Yavapai Tea Party board member Jennifer Campbell.
“This year, we’ll be sending a fresh slate of conservative representatives to Washington. They will need competent leadership and guidance. Senator McCain is dedicated to providing that leadership,” she added.
Analysts say the mixed messages from Tea Party supporters said less about the standing of the two contenders among conservatives, than about a lack of leadership in the movement in this rambunctious election year when voters will elect 435 members of the House of Representatives and fill 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate.
“They’ve never had a clear leadership structure for the Tea Party in Arizona,” said Bruce Merrill, a political analyst and pollster at Arizona State University. “If there is no endorsement, then anyone can claim they have been endorsed,” he added.
Despite the decidedly mixed message from conservative grass-roots activists in the state, McCain appears to be widening his lead over Hayworth.
A Rasmussen Reports poll last week found McCain bagged 54 percent approval to Hayworth’s 34 percent among Republican primary voters in the Mexico border state, giving him his highest level of support yet.
(Photo Credits: REUTERS/Joshua Lott (Radio personality and former Congressman J.D. Hayworth announcing his bid for U.S. Senate, Feb. 2010; Sen. John McCain at a campaign rally in Mesa, AZ, March 2010 ; A man holds sign at a Tea Party protest in Flagstaff, AZ, Aug. 2009)