George Will

Hayworth and McCain, who is seeking a fifth term, will gnaw on each other until the August primary, the rules of which are still unclear. Usually, primary turnouts are low, but this shootout will be unusually enticing. Republican primaries have been open to unaffiliated voters, but in January, when Hayworth's candidacy was still embryonic, the state party opted for a closed primary, on the sound principle that party members -- there are 1.12 million registered -- should pick those who represent the party. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of association, which "plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate," broadly protects parties' rights to define their identities by controlling their nominating processes.

McCain understandably wants the primary open to non-Republicans: A closed primary would favor Hayworth, many of whose supporters are the sort of high-octane conservatives who will vote in an Arizona August. Two of conservatism's current pinups -- Sarah Palin, on whom McCain conferred celebrity, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown -- have campaigned here for McCain. On the other hand, Dick Armey, who is as close as the tea party movement has to a leader, denies reports that he has endorsed McCain. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, perhaps Congress' foremost foe of earmarks, faults Hayworth as insufficiently frugal. Hayworth endorsed and McCain opposed George W. Bush's unfunded $395 billion prescription drug entitlement. Hayworth is supported by Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County's showboating sheriff, a scourge of illegal immigrants.

Some Arizona and national Republicans worry that nominating Hayworth would exacerbate the party's problems with Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority. Barack Obama won 75 percent of the immigrant Latino vote in 2008. Hayworth counters, "Beware the myth of the monolith." He says "some of my most passionate support" comes from Hispanics offended by illegal immigrants.

Voters incandescent about illegal immigration might be numerous enough to decide a primary. Some seasoned Arizona Republicans say, however, that such immigration has slowed as America's economy has slowed. And they say the issue has lost some saliency here, and Arizona's economy has suffered, as some Hispanics have moved to more hospitable states. Furthermore, Hayworth may not understand Arizona's complex relationship to its centuries-old Hispanic dimension.

Democrats, having assumed that McCain will be nominated, have not groomed a top-tier opponent for him. They probably will find one if they think Hayworth can be nominated. As for the McCain-Hayworth contest, a wise Arizona Republican officeholder who is too prudent to abandon anonymity says each combustible candidate "has it in his power to lose."


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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