Sure, McCain’s had two primary opponents for months, but this one is so big that one of those original challengers — Minutemen Civil Defense Corps. founder Chris Simcox — actually stepped down and endorsed the new challenger. The newcomer isn’t really all that new, former Arizona Rep. J. D. Hayworth, who lost his seat in 2006. Hayworth has been plagued by his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff — he refused to give back $69,000 Abramoff and his clients gave him even after Abramoff was convicted. Critics have said because of that money Hayworth helped stop a 1997 proposal to tax Indian casinos and in 2002 he played a key role in stopping a move to limit unlimited donations to federal candidates by Indian tribes.
McCain, though, isn’t taking any chances. Not only has he tracked to the right, his campaign wasted no time in going negative. From a campaign statement:
Mr. Hayworth was the largest recipient of campaign contributions tied to the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mr. Hayworth today promised to serve only two terms if elected, but he made — and broke — a similar pledge when he first ran for Congress, so why would anyone believe him now? The fact is, the people of Arizona rejected Mr. Hayworth’s ‘undistinguished’ record when they resoundingly voted him out of his solidly Republican U.S. House seat in 2006.
Still, McCain must be looking forward to help from his former running mate – Sarah Palin has pledged to campaign for him — as most Tea Party activists I’ve spoken to say they plan on supporting Hayworth. Hayworth, in his announcement, billed himself as the true conservative in the race. Thus far, though, McCain seems to be leading comfortably, 53% to Hayworth’s 31% in a Rasmussen poll last month, before Hayworth officially announced his candidacy.