February 17, 2007

Trouble For McCain At Home?

John McCain enjoys wide popularity in Arizona as one of the two Republicans it sends to the Senate, the other being Jon Kyl. He regularly gets 70% or above in approval ratings, and has made himself almost as much of an institution as Barry Goldwater there. However, trouble has been brewing for his Presidential aspirations as Republican organizers in Arizona have begun planning some unpleasant surprises for their favorite son:

No doubt about it, Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who would like to be president, is a popular man in his state, having won re-election in 2004 with about 76 percent of the vote.

But a vocal slice of the state’s most conservative Republicans, reflecting concerns about Mr. McCain held by some conservatives nationwide, are agitating against him in a way that they hope might throw off his incipient presidential campaign.

In a recent telephone poll by Arizona State University, 54 percent of the state’s Republican voters who were queried favored Mr. McCain in a presidential primary next February, a small enough majority to incite his critics and encourage some Republican rivals. ...

Meanwhile, disgusted with Mr. McCain’s position on proposed changes to immigration laws (he advocates legalization that would not require illegal immigrants to leave the country), with what some see as wavering on the issue of gay marriage (he lent his name to a state ballot initiative to ban it but did not support a constitutional amendment), and with the campaign finance act that bears his name, some Arizona Republicans are making trouble for Mr. McCain.

They have elected local party leaders whom he opposes, criticized his policy positions and thrown early support to other potential primary candidates — all in the hope of tripping up Mr. McCain on his own doorstep.

In an age of razor-thin Electoral College results, every state is a key state, but McCain has to regard a home-state revolt with some concern. He still has a majority in the polling, but one would expect the same electorate that gave him 76% of the vote in 2004 to support his Presidential bid. The loss of 22 points reveals some trepidation among Arizona Republicans to give McCain the executive reins.

He lost one significant endorsement already. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a gadfly and curmudgeon but a wildly popular man in and out of Arizona, has endorsed Mitt Romney for the position instead. Maricopa County, which is Arpaio's jurisdiction, includes Phoenix and its suburbs, and McCain cannot afford to lose the Golden Valley and still hope to win his home-state primary.

Even more stinging, Arpaio has a reputation as a maverick that outstrips anything McCain might want for himself. He has made a national reputation by defying court orders to release prisoners from overcrowded jails by building tent cities in the middle of the Maricopa County desert. Arpaio stopped prisoners from stealing county-jail underwear by dying them pink. His tough, no-nonsense approach appeals to Republican law-and-order stalwarts ... the kind of voters McCain has to retain. Arpaio's endorsement of Romney will hurt, especially since Arizona already has a strong LDS community which would naturally gravitate to Romney anyway.

It's a long primary season -- too long, as Newt Gingrich stated forcefully on Thursday night's CQ radio. McCain has plenty of time to shore up his base at home. He'd better not take too long in addressing their hesitancy, however.


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