Monday, May 31, 2010

McCain’s Last Stand?

While corporations, non-profit organizations, and neighboring communities bicker and boycott over Arizona’s tough new anti-illegal immigration law, the two Republicans locked in a bitter U.S. Senate primary agree the law is fine. And that’s where the agreement stops.

After four terms in the U.S. Senate, a presidential campaign in 2000, capped by the GOP nomination in 2008, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., faces a serious challenge from J.D. Hayworth a former sportscaster turned six-term firebrand congressman from the Hill class of 94’, to conservative radio talk show host.

Make no mistake, McCain still leads the polls comfortably. Real Clear Politics gives McCain a 15-point lead. But as pollster Scott Ramussen notes McCain is hovering around 50 points - dangerous territory for an incumbent, particularly in a “throw the bums out” cycle.

Of all the Republicans in Congress, not one has more immigration baggage than McCain. In fact the only other figure on the national GOP scene with more is former President George W. Bush.

Throughout his presidency Mr. Bush called for “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” including a guest worker program and path to citizenship.

By 2007, John McCain, and none other than the late “Liberal Lion” of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, had co-authored the legislation and twice fought ceaselessly to get it to the Senate floor. Critics dubbed the bill amnesty and after a long bitter debate the measure was ultimately killed.

The fight and fallout left McCain so unpopular among conservatives and the GOP that it nearly killed his 2008 presidential bid. Ever since, McCain has accepted that politically border security must come before anything else. He is currently pushing a measure in the Senate for more National Guard troops on the border and is running an ad with a clearly staged law enforcement stroll called “Complete the Danged Fence.”

J.D. Hayworth has a response ad that encapsulates the hit on McCain in 30 seconds. Starting with file footage of McCain boasting about his comprehensive immigration bill.

Hayworth’s ad asks if voters have had enough of McCain. Some have.

McCain built a career by breaking ranks with his party, often compromising with liberals and infuriating the GOP. Despite being the GOP’s presidential standard bearer just two years ago, there is no shortage of frustration and sour memories among Arizona conservatives.

By way of reinforcements, McCain has even reached out and brought back his most trusted, longest serving, and arguably most skilled, advisers. Only three senior advisers served on McCain’s 2000 run against George W. Bush AND then again in the 2008 race: campaign manager Rick Davis, senior adviser, strategist and co-author Mark Salter, and strategist/super lobbyist Charlie Black.

Hayworth has a very steep hill to climb. McCain is unique and iconic: a war hero, a presidential nominee, a maverick, who is well organized with countless friends and favors spread all over Arizona.

But McCain is also unique as the principal GOP sponsor of immigration reform with Ted Kennedy; if Hayworth hits that message right, the August primary could be McCain’s last race.

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