* J.D. Hayworth served six terms as congressman
* He staunch opponent of illegal immigration
* Experts predict tough, personal fight
By David Schwartz
PHOENIX, Feb 15 Fiery conservative Republican
J.D. Hayworth launched a bid on Monday to run for the U.S.
Senate in Arizona, unleashing the most serious challenge yet to
incumbent John McCain and highlighting deep divisions in the
party, analysts said.
McCain, 73, a war hero who ran against Barack Obama for
president in 2008, has a long record of working with Democrats
who control an increasingly partisan Congress, alienating
conservatives who see him as a maverick not to be trusted.
"What I am hearing from people is that they want a
consistent conservative," said Hayworth, 51, a talk radio show
host and former U.S. congressman who is appealing to the
party's right-wing base in Arizona, which McCain has
represented in the Senate since 1986.
"When it comes to the U.S. Senate, he's just been there too
long. You have to ask, what has he done in the last decade in
Arizona?" he added.
A combative, blustering man, Haywood is best known in the
Mexico border state for his thundering opposition to illegal
immigration. Elected to the House of Representatives in the
1994 Republican landslide, he served six terms but narrowly
lost in 2006 to Democrat Harry Mitchell.
His campaign frames him as an alternative to McCain's
"moderate record on taxes, social issues, the border, and
bailing out the banks," and finds resonance with increasingly
energized conservatives in the state.
"I admire John McCain, he's a war hero, he did some great
things, but he's not in touch with what's really going on,"
said Pam Stevenson, an activist with the Tea Party, a
grass-roots conservative group that hopes to make a splash in
the 2010 congressional elections and beyond.
"J.D. Hayworth seems to be in more with the people, what
the people's needs are, what they really want to do," she
McCain was re-elected to a fourth Senate term in 2004 with
nearly 77 percent of the vote. He carried Arizona in the 2008
general election despite some predictions that he would lose it
He had a 22-percentage-point lead over Hayworth, according
to a Rasmussen poll last month, although a previous poll in
November put both in a virtual tie.
VICIOUS PRIMARY CONTEST
Analysts expect a tough, personal battle leading up to the
August 24 primary that could tear open ideological rifts within
the Republican Party.
It "has the potential to be a particularly vicious, muddy
primary that could end up being the election that's focused on
not only in Arizona but around the country," said Bruce
Merrill, a political analyst at Arizona State University.
"There will be a lot of charges that McCain has sold out to
special interests, that he's not a real conservative. It could
get very personal," he added.
But it is well known that Hayworth had ties to convicted
Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients, receiving
money and using Abramoff's sports arena skyboxes. No
investigation into Hayworth was ever pursued.
McCain's influence among Republicans is strong in the
Senate, where he has taken leading positions on the military
and foreign policy. In a Harris Poll last month, he was seen as
the most influential player in the Republican Party .
On his side, McCain also has more than $5 million in his
war chest to fund a long campaign, together with wide support
among veterans, independents and conservative Democrats in
"J.D. can launch all the personal attacks he wants to, but
the people already have someone they know and can trust," Mike
Hellon, McCain's deputy campaign manager told Reuters.
Hayworth told Reuters on Monday he needs $2 million to
seriously contend and has begun appealing to supporters.
To secure his right flank, McCain has lined up prominent
conservatives to campaign for him in Arizona, including his
former running mate Sarah Palin, and Scott Brown, the newly
elected senator from Massachusetts.
He has also edged away from some of his more centrist
positions such as support for campaign finance reform and
closing the detention center at Guantanamo, in a bid to narrow
the gap with conservatives.
Hellon believes McCain will win re-election by a
comfortable margin, but said he faces the toughest battle of
his Senate career.
"He (McCain) takes every race seriously," he said. "This is
probably the most energetic and credible opponent he's had
since he's been in office."
(Writing and additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by