Immigration Plays Major Role In Arizona Primary

Arizona voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose candidates for November’s general election. The vote could be key to Republican efforts to regain control of Congress, but some of the party’s luminaries have struggled.

John McCain, one of the biggest GOP names, is vying for his fifth U.S. Senate term.

The polls once showed that McCain was vulnerable to a challenge from the right of his own party. Late last year, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth had pulled even with McCain. The radio talk show host had been giving McCain a tough time for months over his support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

McCain’s Media Blitz

“It is about time you represent we the people of the United States of America and your Arizona constituents instead of illegal invaders and criminal trespassers,” Hayworth said on his radio show.

But McCain, the old Navy pilot, seemed to take to heart the quote from legendary British Adm. Horatio Nelson that “time is everything.” He tacked to the right and began running ads on Hayworth’s own radio show, even before Hayworth entered the race.

“President Obama is leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America. I stand in his way every day,” McCain says in one ad.

The former self-described maverick, who has disavowed the label, brought in his 2008 vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin. McCain has attacked Hayworth over his congressional record, his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his hosting an infomercial for a company promising free money from the government.

“Every time you turn on the television, you see a commercial,” says Matt Bunk, managing editor of the Arizona Capitol Times. He says the ads have worked — not just because of their frequency, but also because Hayworth was open to attack.

“It turned out that way — he wasn’t the strongest candidate to be challenging McCain,” Bunk says.

McCain has spent nearly $20 million on the primary — 10 times what Hayworth has raised. The latest polls show McCain with a 20-point lead.

The Impact Of Senate Bill 1070

On the Democratic side, one of four untested candidates will face McCain or Hayworth in November.

In the race for governor, Republican Jan Brewer is seeking a full term.

Brewer had been struggling since taking over from Democrat Janet Napolitano, who resigned to become Department of Homeland Security secretary. Brewer had been down in the polls and was facing a huge state budget deficit.

But since April 23 — and Senate Bill 1070 — none of that has mattered.

Brewer’s decision to sign Arizona’s tough anti-immigration law has proved popular among Arizona voters, especially Republicans, though much of the law is on hold awaiting a court hearing.

She has since become one of the party’s highest-profile members in the country, and one by one, her opponents have dropped out.

“I can assure you that if she had not signed 1070, she would have had no chance to get the Republican nomination,” says pollster Bruce Merrill, a former Arizona State University professor.

On the Democratic side, there’s always been only one candidate: state Attorney General Terry Goddard. Goddard opposed SB 1070, and it has taken a toll. He once led Brewer in the polls but now trails — by 19 percent in one poll.

Having all but sewn up their nominations, both candidates for governor are looking toward November. Their campaigns have begun to turn away from immigration and ha