Sen. John McCain routed former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in the Arizona Republican primary Tuesday night after a contentious campaign marked by stinging attacks and McCain’s attempts to burnish his own conservative credentials.The four-term Senate incumbent appeared headed toward a nearly 2-to-1 victory over Hayworth, a former congressman and radio show talk host who attempted to cast himself as the “consistent conservative.” McCain, who led in every county in the state, held a 57 percent to 32 percent advantage with 82 percent of precincts reporting. Little-known conservative Jim Deakin, who was criticized by McCain opponents as a spoiler who would split the vote against the senator, pulled in 12 percent of the vote.
Despite a spirited bid by Hayworth, who cultivated support from – and staffed his campaign with – Tea Party activists, McCain’s $21 million blitzkrieg ultimately rendered him an unacceptable alternative, despite widespread antipathy toward McCain among many grassroots conservatives.
McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, declared victory and took the stage before a half-filled room at the Phoenix Convention Center less than two hours after the polls closed. Hayworth had not yet called to concede the race, even after most McCain supporters had left the downtown Phoenix victory party, a McCain aide told POLITICO.
In his speech, McCain graciously tipped his cap to his opponents, Hayworth and Jim Deakin, for “having the courage to enter the arena.” But most of the forward-looking address focused on what he hoped to accomplish in the Senate if Republicans gained control of Congress.
“I’m convinced that Republicans will win in November and we will regain the majorities in both the Senate and the House,” he said. “And when we do, we will stop the out of control spending and tax increases and repeal and replace Obamacare. We will keep families in their homes, we will create new jobs and we will allow our businesses to grow without Washington interference. We will secure our borders, defend our nation and bring our troops home from Afghanistan with honor and victory.”
In his concession speech in Scottsdale, Hayworth made reference to the towering amount of money McCain devoted to winning renomination to a fifth term.
“I just got off the phone with my Dad and he offered his congratulations . . . He said, you’re a one man economic stimulus package for Arizona. Even when you finish second, you can prompt all sorts of economic activity in your home state,” he said to laughs.
The McCain campaign went on the offensive almost as soon as Hayworth entered the race in mid-February, running an aggressive operation that took the challenge seriously even as it portrayed him as an inept, bumbling “huckster.”
McCain brought in his former running mate, Sarah Palin, for a pair of rallies back in March to deliver a jolt to a base and rekindle the energy the conservative icon brought to the GOP ticket two years ago. His campaign also rolled out slickly produced web videos that poked fun at Hayworth’s bizarre statements on gay marriage and President Obama’s citizenship that helped shift attention to Hayworth’s flaws as a candidate and, in the final weeks of the primary, strategically timed the distribution of a video of Hayworth as a pitchman for a seedy info-mercial hawking “free money grants.”
In the tagline of his own closing ad, Hayworth was forced to acknowledge, “I’ve made my mistakes.”
Even on Hayworth’s signature issue of immigration, McCain appeared to neutralize his challenger’s advantage by cutting an ad on the border with a county sheriff and urging the federal government to “complete the danged fence.” Noting McCain’s previous support for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, Hayworth dubbed the two-time presidential candidate “a shape-shifter.”
Immigration wasn’t the only issue where McCain seemed to recalibrate his position in response to the primary challenge. He also promised to filibuster any legislation that revoked the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after pledging to support the repeal in 2006 and he distanced himself from an emissions capping measure he co-sponsored with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) as conservative anger over cap-and-trail boiled over.
McCain, who has never faced a serious general election challenge since winning the seat in 1986, faces nominal opposition this fall from Rodney Glassman, a Tucson city councilman, who was declared the winner of the four-way Democratic primary with 35 percent of the vote, with 82 percent of precincts reporting.