Palin Makes Fans Uneasy by Backing McCain
Tea Party Favorite Heads to Arizona to Help Running Mate Battle a Primary Challenge From Immigration Foe Hayworth
By TAMARA AUDI and AARON ZITNER
PHOENIX—Like many of his fellow tea party activists, Lee Earle adores former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But when Ms. Palin shows up at a pair of rallies in Arizona on Friday and Saturday, he won’t be attending.
Associated PressSarah Palin listens to daughter Piper after speaking at the Orange County GOP executive committee dinner in Orlando, Fla., this month. Ms. Palin will attend rallies for Sen. John McCain in Arizona Friday and Saturday.
That’s because Ms. Palin is coming to stump for her former running mate, Sen. John McCain. Mr. Earle is backing J.D. Hayworth, Mr. McCain’s challenger in the Republican primary on Aug. 24. Mr. Hayworth, a former congressman and talk-radio host, has become a darling for some in the tea party movement.
“Most of the tea party people I know are disappointed with her decision” to support Mr. McCain, says Mr. Earle. “But we understand she’s fulfilling an obligation to Sen. McCain for pulling her from obscurity.”
Like many Republicans, Ms. Palin is trying to navigate a political order transformed from 2008. Mr. McCain was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, but he is now fighting off an aggressive primary challenge in a state he has represented since 1983.
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A Rasmussen Report released March 16 shows Mr. McCain ahead by seven points, with a margin of error of plus or minus four points. Earlier polling put Mr. McCain ahead by 22 points.
Arizona’s primary race “went from very sleepy to being very captivating,” says Randy Pullen, chairman of the state’s Republican Party.
Ms. Palin has served as a rallying force for the tea party movement. In February, a gathering billed as the first national tea party convention, which had been marked by infighting and cancellations, heard a rousing keynote address from Ms. Palin in which she took aim at President Barack Obama. On Saturday, organizers say she will attend a tea party rally in Searchlight, Nev., the hometown of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, after campaigning that day for Mr. McCain.
Yet not all of Ms. Palin’s policy stances are in synch with the bulk of thinking in the disparate tea party groups.
Like many conservative activists, she criticizes the government’s rescue of the financial system and Mr. Obama’s stimulus package. This week, she began soliciting donations to campaign against Democrats who represent Republican-leaning districts but who voted for Mr. Obama’s health care legislation.
On immigration, however, Ms. Palin parts with the hard line of some tea party activists. As a candidate for vice president, Ms. Palin told Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, that she supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.
“I do, because I understand why people would want to be in America—to seek the safety and prosperity, the opportunities, the health that is here,” she told the network. At the same time, she said she opposed “total amnesty.”
That puts Ms. Palin closer to the position of Mr. McCain on an issue that will loom large in the Arizona primary. It also places her at odds with Mr. Hayworth, a leading opponent of the 2007 push by Mr. McCain and other lawmakers to create a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants while strengthening border security. Some tea party members and conservatives are still angry over Mr. McCain’s leadership on that effort.
Ms. Palin’s stance on free trade also appears different from that of some tea party members. Some activists say on blogs and websites that their goals include repealing the North American Free Trade Agreement and other free trade agreements—though the point is not a major focus of the groups, and it is unclear that there is broad agreement on the issue. Ms. Palin, by contrast, has defended free trade, arguing in her book, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” that protectionism helped cause the Great Depression.
In a September speech to an investor conference in Hong Kong, Ms. Palin also said she foresaw “a future of more trade with China,” as long as China strengthened intellectual property enforcement and other legal protections. “We need to avoid protectionism and China’s flirtation with state assisted national champions,” she said. “On our part, we should be more open to Chinese investment where our national security interests are not threatened.”
Bringing in Ms. Palin is a slightly awkward move by the McCain camp. Since the presidential campaign ended, McCain aides have aired a lot of criticisms of the former running mate, and in “Going Rogue,” Ms. Palin called the McCain campaign disorganized and slow to focus on the economy.
ReutersA supporter attends former GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s announcement of his Senate bid in Phoenix last month.
However, neither Ms. Palin nor Mr. McCain have criticized each other directly. Mr. Rogers says the relationship between the two “is strong. …She’s coming to Arizona because she knows Sen. McCain is the right kind of leader for Arizona.”
Several tea party organizers interviewed for this article said they supported Mr. Hayworth or Jim Deakin, another GOP challenger. But earlier this month, four tea party groups here said they would not endorse any candidate in the primary.
“J.D. [Hayworth] likes to say he is the tea party candidate, but the tea party is not a monolith,” says Mr. Rogers. “Mr. McCain has plenty of support among those groups.”
Trent Humphries, co-organizer of the Tucson Tea Party, says his group includes supporters of Sen. McCain and Mr. Hayworth. Mr. Humphries is undecided, but plans to attend Mr. McCain’s Tucson rally.
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Hayworth said it was support from Tea Party activists that prompted him to run against Mr. McCain. He said the effect of Ms. Palin’s presence on the campaign “has been one of the most-asked questions since the campaign began. I guess we’ll see.”
Mr. Hayworth said he has never met Ms. Palin, “but we have a lot in common. …I welcome her support following the primary.”
While Ms. Palin is in Tucson on Friday, Mr. Earle, the tea party activist, will be at a rally in Phoenix with antitax protester Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, “Joe the Plumber,” who gained fame during the 2008 election. “But I still love Sarah,” he says.
—Laura Meckler contributed to this article. Write to Tamara Audi at email@example.com