The Campaign Spot

Love Him or Hate Him, McCain Is the Safer Bet in the Arizona Primary

A reader laments Mitt Romney’s endorsement of John McCain in the Arizona Senate primary against J .D. Hayworth:

I can understand Palin endorsing McCain (dancin’ with the one who brung ya). But now, Romney?

It seems that McAmnesty will once again drag down his party, as numerous old Senators of both parties have done from time to time. Tell me again why I should bother to vote Republican, given that after the party finishes tossing overboard everything of interest to me, all that’s left is tax breaks for the wealthy and waves of immigration (legal or not)? Might as well vote progressive and be done with it.

It’s a free country, and so anyone can call them as they see them. But Romney’s endorsement shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone. For starters, Romney’s making the safe bet; Hayworth starts way behind. His own poll puts him 16 percentage points behind; another poll puts McCain up 20; McCain’s poll puts Hayworth down 29 percentage points. What’s more, the Hayworth-sponsored poll puts McCain almost at a majority, 49 percent. I’m not quite going to guarantee a McCain primary win, but Hayworth faces a steep, tough uphill climb between now and August 24. (I don’t understand how some media sources can write “Like Hayworth, Rubio is giving a powerful incumbent Republican fits in the polls.”)

Is Hayworth more conservative than McCain? Sure, Hayworth’s lifetime ACU rating of 97.56 is about as conservative as they come. But McCain’s lifetime score is a surprising 81.43 – surprising, at least, if your first thoughts about McCain are the campaign-finance reform bill, his work with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform, his vote for TARP, and all of his moments where he “mavericked” away from the rest of the Republican party. But since the presidential election, McCain’s been a pretty persistent opponent of the Obama administration; there’s been some bitter vindication for McCain as every one of the grandiose promises, so central to Obama’s victory, have reached their expiration date.

Also note that with Harry Reid and Senate Democrats pursuing a relentlessly liberal agenda between now and the primary, McCain is not likely to give Hayworth fresh fodder.

Beyond that, McCain can invoke the Sarah Palin card anytime the “he’s not conservative enough” line gets traction. Any Palin fan who grinds their teeth about McCain has to recognize that for all of the Arizona senator’s supposed moderation and inclination to compromise, on one of the biggest decisions of the campaign, he picked Palin. If he was really the hopeless squish that some suggest, he would have gone with Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge or some other pallid centrist.

Beyond that, as much as a right-leaning GOP primary voter may love Hayworth for his consistent, combative case for conservative policies, there’s a strong argument that he fumbled away a winnable House race in 2006, getting only 46 percent in a right-leaning district where George W. Bush carried 54 percent and John McCain carried 51 percent. Style and tone count for a lot, and some voters are repelled by too much table-pounding. Some Republicans contend – plausibly, I think – that a “scandal factor” played a role in his defeat. There’s some argument that Hayworth took his opponent too lightly; Hayworth ended the year with $201,130 in his campaign account and no debt, according to his FEC filing.

Does all this add up to sufficient reasons to prefer McCain? I’m not inclined to that logic, but different conservatives will come to different conclusions.

I laid out my allegedly morbid thoughts on Hayworth’s long-term goals here . . .