McCain Faces Election Challenger From The Right John McCain's maverick moves of the past have ticked off some of his own conservative constituents. Enter congressman turned radio talk show host J.D. Hayworth, who appeals to the Tea Party crowd. This election, McCain might have some serious competition.
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McCain Faces Election Challenger From The Right

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McCain Faces Election Challenger From The Right

McCain Faces Election Challenger From The Right

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


NPR's Ted Robbins has the story.


John McCain has been popular with Arizona voters, but during his 24 years in the Senate, he's also ticked off people in his own party. It's the price he's paid for being, yes, a maverick. Especially on Arizona's hot-button issue: immigration. In 2006, McCain voted in a losing effort to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Former congressman turned radio talk show host J.D. Hayworth has been blasting McCain for that on the air.


HAYWORTH: It is about time you represent we the people of the United States of America and your Arizona constituents, instead of illegal invaders and criminal trespassers.

ROBBINS: Hayworth recently ended his show and took his anger one step further. He's running against McCain. Hayworth traveled the state, declaring himself an outsider and the true conservative.

HAYWORTH: John McCain and the Washington establishment on one side, and we the people on the other.



ROBBINS: About 100 people watched the imposing 6-foot-5 Hayworth in a downtown Tucson park. Many said they'd liked him since he appeared at a local Tea Party event last year.

KATHY PEAK: I just want somebody that I know that I really feel is a conservative and not a Republican in name only.

ROBBINS: Now, Hayworth was not encouraged to run simply by fans like Kathy Peak. More likely, it was a couple of polls last fall: one which showed nearly two-thirds of Arizona Republicans thought McCain was out of touch with his party's base, and one which showed Hayworth even with McCain. Put those two together, and you have the argument for Hayworth's candidacy: John McCain isn't a conservative at all - he's a liberal.

HAYWORTH: Just like the liberals, John opposes waterboarding captured terrorists like the Christmas bomber. Just like the liberals, John wants the prison at Gitmo shut down. And just like the liberals, John wrote the campaign finance law just struck down by the Supreme Court that denied free speech rights to groups like the National Rifle Association.


ROBBINS: McCain began fighting back even before Hayworth announced. He ran ads like this one, touting his conservative credentials on Hayworth's own radio show.


JOHN MCCAIN: Unidentified Man: John McCain: He's Arizona's last line of defense. Character matters.

ROBBINS: Character matters, a subtle swipe at J.D. Hayworth? Because Hayworth was defeated in 2006 after 12 years in Congress, partly because of his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a fact McCain frequently points out.

MCCAIN: Mr. Hayworth was one of the big pork barrelers and earmarkers, got tied up with this character, Abramoff, that's now in jail. I fought against earmarks and pork-barrel spending. My record is very clear.

ROBBINS: And though John McCain may have ticked off some people in his party, he's also made a lot of friends.


ROBBINS: Fellow Republican Senator Jon Kyl campaigned with McCain last week at a party dinner in Tucson. Some folks I spoke with here were Hayworth supporters. Many were not ready to declare. But a lot were like Sam Stone, who said he's leaning toward McCain.

SAM STONE: Haven't made a formal decision yet, but I think John McCain at this point. I think his experience is telling. And Congress - former Congressman Hayworth I'm not sure is the right person at the right time right now.

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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