(E.J. Montini/AZCentral.com) – Losing his seat in Congress was the best chance J.D. Hayworth had to advance his political career.
If Hayworth hadn’t gotten beat by Harry Mitchell in 2006 he would not have wound up on local talk radio. And without a three-hour weekday radio program to promote himself and trash his potential opposition there is no way that Hayworth would be neck-and-neck in the polls with U.S. Senator John McCain.
But he is.
According to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll of likely Republican voters in the 2010 primary, McCain draws 45 percent to Hayworth’s 43 percent. A statistical dead heat.
And why not? Ever since he began broadcasting on KFYI (550 AM) in Phoenix, Hayworth has taken shots at the senator, something he could not have done as a we’re-all-on-the-same-Republican-team member of Congress.
That changed when Hayworth, the one-time television sportscaster, lost his seat to Mitchell, the popular former mayor of Tempe. Back then Hayworth was taking heat for his ties to the now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Hayworth also was criticized for putting his wife on the payroll of his political action committee.
It was a lot to overcome, and in those days Hayworth didn’t have a microphone at his disposal.
Officially, Hayworth is not running for anything. And Arizona’s other U.S. senator, Jon Kyl, said that he doesn’t believe the former congressman will challenge McCain.
“No, I don’t think that J.D. Hayworth will run,” Kyl said recently. “He’s got a radio program that I understand is very popular. A lot of folks listen to it. My guess is he will carry on his political activity in that venue.”
That venue, as Kyl politely calls it, is a hammer. And at any given moment the anvil is McCain. And should Hayworth choose to ignore Kyl and any other Republican bigwigs, he also has at least one very popular supporter.
Early next month, Sheriff Joe Arpaio will host a fundraiser to help Hayworth pay off legal bills that piled up during the investigation of Abramoff.
Arpaio and McCain have never been close. Arpaio backed George Bush against the senator in 2000. McCain supported Dan Saban against Arpaio in 2004. I’d guess the sheriff would endorse Hayworth in a primary.
How entertaining would that be?
Particularly if McCain were to ask his old running mate Sarah Palin to stump for him.
McCain is aware of the poll results and of the way Hayworth roughs him up on the radio. When I asked about a potential Hayworth challenge McCain aide Brooke Buchanan said, “Senator McCain never takes any election for granted, and is working hard to continue to deserve the support of Arizonans as he fights to create jobs in the state and keep America safe.”
I wrote about all this online for azcentral.com and got a response similar to the Rasmussen poll. About a third of the people were like “nativegal78,” who said, “The only reason I’m still a registered Republican in Arizona is so I can vote for McCain’s opponent in the primary. Hayworth would get my vote.”
Another third mimicked “nilrak85,” who wrote, “I thought we had seen the last of Foghorn Leghorn. If he takes McCain’s seat this state deserves what it gets. Senator McCain is a statesman who can get things done.”
The other third expressed dismay at the prospect of voting for either man. Like a reader calling himself (or herself) “pkbishop,” who wrote:
“Egad! What a choice!”