John McCain Fights for His Political Life in Arizona

GOP challenger J.D. Hayworth hits the former "maverick" from the right.

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Today is a day of reckoning for incumbents, self-financers, and Tea Party candidates alike, as primaries in five states winnow the list of political hopefuls in some of this year's most hard-fought congressional races. Tuesday features Senate, House, and gubernatorial races in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Vermont, as well as a run-off Republican primary in Oklahoma's Second Congressional District. Republican incumbent Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski will face off against Tea Party upstarts, while the pools of candidates will be pared down in hotly contested open races, like that for Florida's open Senate seat.


Sen. John McCain, in office since 1987, will face former House member and conservative talk radio host J.D. Hayworth in Arizona's Republican Senate primary.

[Read John McCain's first-person account of his time as a POW in Vietnam.] 

Hayworth is marketing himself as a "consistent conservative," emphasizing his views as further right than McCain's on a broad spectrum of issues. Hayworth has amassed significant support, having taken in $2.9 million this cycle in his bid to unseat McCain, and has also caused McCain to tack to the right and distance himself from his former centrist "maverick" identity. But McCain has himself raised and spent massive amounts of money to hold off Hayworth's challenge. McCain is one of the top fundraisers this cycle, having netted $26.7 million thus far, and has also been among the top spenders, reporting $21.1 million in expenditures according to his pre-primary filing with the Federal Election Commission. The expenditures appear to have bought him some breathing room--recent polls show McCain leading Hayworth by 20 percentage points. [See which industries support McCain.] 

Four Democrats are vying for their party's Senate nomination, and it appears to be anyone's race. Though Tucson's Vice Mayor Rod Glassman led the field in a late-July Rasmussen poll of likely Democratic voters, he only had 15 percent of that vote, while fully 47 percent of respondents also said they were undecided (5.5 percent margin of error). Glassman leads the field in fundraising, with $1,156,282. The next-closest candidate in fundraising is Catherine Eden, with $148,692, only one-eighth of Glassman's total. 

If nominated, Glassman could well need the extra money, as polls suggest that a race against McCain would be an uphill battle. An August 3 Rasmussen poll shows McCain doing substantially better than Hayworth against Glassman; while Hayworth trails the Democrat, 38 to 43 percent, McCain has a nineteen-point lead, with 53 percent to Glassman's 34 (margin of error 4.5 percent). 

A few Arizona House seats also hang in the balance. Election analysts often cite Arizona's Eighth District, currently held by Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as a seat that could change hands in November. Giffords is uncontested in seeking the Democratic nomination. The two most prominent Republicans she may face on the ballot, construction manager Jesse Kelly and former state Sen.Jonathan Paton, will face off on Tuesday. The two men both served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they also share similar stances on many issues (they oppose health care reform and immigration reform), and they also are both advocating for increased border security, a major issue in this district that borders Mexico. The candidates are working to differentiate themselves, however. Paton is touting his vote for Arizona's controversial new immigration law, and the 29-year-old Kelly is emphasizing that he is not a "career politician." There is also a significant difference in the amounts of funds they have raised: Paton with $719,214 for the cycle, and Kelly with $568,376. 

Whoever her opponent, Giffords appears ready for a fight. She has raised more than any other Arizona House candidate. Giffords's pre-primary filing showed $2.4 million in receipts as of August 4 and $1.9 million unspent. Since then, she has continued the fundraising push, and has reported $33,700 in further donations.