Arizona tea party movement making McCain and Hayworth work for vote


By: Ford O’Connell

The battle for the GOP Arizona Senate nomination could be one of the fiercest Republican primary battles of 2010.

There are three announced candidates vying for the Arizona Senate GOP nomination, with conventional political wisdom viewing this race as a two-way battle between incumbent Sen. John McCain and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Last week, the leaders of Arizona’s four largest tea party organizations (Tucson Tea Party, Greater Phoenix Tea Party, Flagstaff Tea Party and Mojave Tea Party) issued a joint press release outlining their unified decision to not endorse a candidate in the Arizona Senate GOP primary.  There are more than 30 tea party-affiliated organizations operating in the Grand Canyon State.

According to Kelly Townsend, organizer of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party, “It is not appropriate to make an endorsement in this race at the drop of a hat, as some other groups are doing.”

Robert Mayer, co-founder of the Tucson Tea Party, took it a step further: “Both McCain and Hayworth’s records during their many years in Washington leave much to be desired…It is their job to…fight for our votes.”

Given the recent drubbing that the tea party movement has taken in the mainstream media, one could argue that the publically unified stance of Arizona’s four largest tea party organizations is a shrewd political move that could keep their issues at the forefront of the debate, perhaps even more effectively than if they field a candidate from within their own ranks.  Here’s why:

No strong candidate on the Democratic side has yet appeared – former Bell Gardens (California) mayor Rudy Garcia is the only candidate to have announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination.  While the independent nature of Arizona voters is well documented, it would take something close to extraordinary for “self-described” independent voters in the Grand Canyon State to play a deciding role in this race come November should the Democrats field a subpar candidate and Arizona registered Republican voters elect to tow the party line.  Remember, most Arizona voters value immigration reform over healthcare reform and John McCain and George Bush easily coasted to victory in the last two Presidential contests in Arizona.  Although immigration reform is not a tea party specific issue, it weighs heavily on the minds of Arizona voters.  Sen. McCain has at times been criticized as being soft on this issue.

When you factor in the date of this year’s Arizona Republican Primary – August 24 – one begins to surmise that if Arizona tea partiers want to truly bring about greater adherence to their stated principles of “limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility” within the Grand Canyon State and in Washington, they are best served, this year, by working within the two-party system, not outside of it.  Unlike the well-known Sen. McCain or former Congressman Hayworth, a unknown come-from behind tea party challenger, even if he or she won the primary, would have a much tougher time building name recognition and winning in the general election.

By publicly shying away from endorsing McCain or Hayworth in a unified fashion and working within the two-party system (at least for now), Arizona tea partiers are better positioned to hold both candidates accountable.  According to published reports, this tactic appears to be paying dividends – Sen. McCain has been forced to defend his Senate record of supporting the government bailouts of the financial sector, and Hayworth has had to fend off criticism of his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

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