|McCain calls in favors
By: Andy Barr
March 3, 2010 05:20 AM EDT
|Over the past week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has rolled out a list of blue-chip GOP political endorsements in his primary contest against challenger J.D. Hayworth — and his campaign said more are on the way.
It’s part of a concerted effort to remind primary voters of his stature, as well as an attempt to undercut Hayworth’s claim to be the conservative candidate in the Aug. 24 primary before his challenger can gain any traction.
To neutralize Hayworth’s claim on tea party movement voters, McCain has unveiled his backing from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and newly minted Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) — both plan to stump on his behalf.
The former 2008 GOP presidential nominee has also picked up the official support of the entire state GOP congressional delegation — a few of whom once served in the House with Hayworth — and the state Chamber of Commerce. Prominent national Republicans are on the McCain team, too: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, once a bitter enemy.
“He’s laying out the marker to demonstrate that he’s got support across the board,” said Sean Noble, an Arizona GOP consultant and former chief of staff to Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). “The establishment in Arizona is very conservative. You’ve got guys who are way more conservative than either Hayworth or McCain, and they are siding with McCain.”
The steady and consistent clip of the endorsements is by design, said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.
“We have a plan to roll out over the next two or three weeks even more,” Rogers said. “John McCain has deep support because of the hard work he’s doing to fight for Arizona, and that’s reflected in the endorsements.”
Hayworth hasn’t been able to point to anywhere near the same amount of establishment support. And his most prominent endorser, once-popular Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is under federal investigation for alleged abuse of power.
Hayworth’s camp, which frames the four-term senator as a Beltway insider who is out of touch with Arizonans, argues that McCain’s A-list roster of endorsements simply underscores its candidate’s message.
“There is a clear fault line that McCain’s endorsements suggest: the Washington establishment vs. the conservatives of Arizona and across the country,” said Hayworth spokesman Jason Rose. “And in this election year, I’ll take our people-based endorsements of tea party patriots, gun owners and illegal-immigration fighters over the 24-year incumbent’s.”
Kurt Davis, a GOP consultant who co-led McCain’s presidential campaign in Arizona, said McCain’s list of supporters also represents a broad array of GOP voices.
“Look at the cross section of people that have endorsed him — yeah, you’ve got your traditional Republican types, but a lot of these people are not the establishment within the party. It’s a pretty broad and unusual group of folks,” Davis said. “If you just look at Arizona’s delegation, we have probably the most unestablishment delegation there is.”
McCain is racking up endorsements despite the considerable animus toward him that exists in some GOP quarters. One reason is that his two presidential campaigns have enabled him to dole out favors and collect chits, and his campaign recognizes that now is the time to cash in on his wealth of high-level contacts.
“He’s not taking reelection for granted,” GOPAC Chairman and longtime McCain ally Frank Donatelli told POLITICO. “The support underlines his own conservative credentials from other leading conservatives in the national GOP. Anyone endorsed by Palin, Romney and Pawlenty is the genuine article.”
Palin’s endorsement — and her promised appearance — are perhaps the best conservative insulation McCain has received. She is popular among the conservative, populist grass roots and in the conservative radio talk show world — the same realm that Hayworth thrived in as a local radio host and a source of energy propelling his Senate run.
Palin has explained her endorsement as a measure of loyalty to McCain for picking her as his running mate, a reason that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and others have accepted.
Romney is so far the only one who has taken notable flak for endorsing McCain, and Pawlenty said Friday that he is not too worried about a conservative backlash over the move.
“I’ve known John McCain for 20 years, dating back to the late1980s; I’ve long considered him a friend and somebody that I greatly admire for his service to our country both in the military and as a United States senator,” Pawlenty told a group of reporters in Missouri. “I believe he deserves reelection to the United States Senate as a Republican. So I’m going to stand on that principle; if that costs me, it costs me, but it’s what I believe.”
Still, to some Arizonans, McCain’s strategy seems stale — and a diversion from the grass-roots work he needs to do to earn a fifth term.
“I have no idea what they are thinking,” said Chuck Coughlin, one of the state’s top Republican consultants. “It’s all boring Campaign 101 stuff, rolling out the endorsements.”
Coughlin said that McCain is leaning too hard on his national credentials and on attacking Hayworth and doing too little to give Arizona Republicans a reason to renominate him.
McCain “seems fully focused on the tail rather than the dog,” Coughlin said. “He’s running scared, and it’s stupid.”