Arizona Race Tests a Hard Line on Immigration


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Desertdog
June 13, 2006, 05:20 PM
Six-Term GOP Congressman Faces a Challenge in a State Seen as Moving to the Center
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/11/AR2006061100776_pf.html
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Republican in the race is a firebrand by disposition and design. The Democrat is so low-key his advisers make a point of saying he really is energetic.

The Republican is an immigration hawk who favors cracking down on illegal immigrants and wrote a book called "Whatever It Takes." The Democrat calls himself an immigration realist who would combine tighter border controls with a path toward legal status.

At 47, Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth has nearly 12 years of experience in Congress. At 65, Democrat Harry Mitchell has none. He does, however, have an artful 35-foot statue in his honor here, where the municipal center and a bar across the street are named for him.

Hayworth is running hard for reelection, describing himself to GOP campaign workers as "not real subtle, and you know exactly where I stand." Mitchell is a local political legend who contends that Hayworth "has a lot of explaining to do," not least about his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The race for Arizona's Republican-dominated 5th District is considered competitive for the first time in a decade. Analysts point to troubles in the White House and Congress, as well as Hayworth's outsize profile on immigration. It all makes for an intriguing contest in an unpredictable state where pollsters see a shift to the center.

It also makes the race something of a referendum on immigration policy.

"Right now, it looks as though the playing field is leveling off," said analyst Earl de Burgh, research director for the independent Rocky Mountain Poll. "Whether Mitchell has the panache to deliver the blow to Hayworth's jaw, I don't know."

Amy Walter, who follows House races for the Cook Political Report, believes Hayworth has the edge in a district that has eight registered Republicans for every five registered Democrats. But the district's substantial slice of independents complicates the picture, as does the image of local Republicans as more moderate and temperate than their congressman.

Two other challenges to Arizona Republicans are being watched closely because of the potential for a Democratic upset. One is the battle to replace retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) in southeastern Arizona's 8th District. The other is the effort by wealthy Phoenix developer Jim Pederson (D) to topple Sen. Jon Kyl (R), a conservative.

"This is no longer the country of Barry Goldwater. There's a thrust toward centrism in Arizona that's very apparent," de Burgh said.

With six terms in Congress, Hayworth, a former offensive lineman, has a way of commanding a stage. He is a large man, though not nearly as large as he used to be. He lost 110 pounds from his peak of 345, thanks to pre-dawn workouts and a stapled stomach.

He did time as a spring-training announcer and Phoenix sports anchor and does dead-on impressions of politicians, notably Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and former vice president Al Gore. He rode the 1994 Republican wave into Congress and cultivated a reputation as a quotable conservative, recently becoming a cable news regular.

Initially moderate on immigration, he shifted to oppose a guest-worker program and favor the deportation of all illegal immigrants. He published "Whatever It Takes" this year with blurbs from conservative stalwarts Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham.

Hayworth, in a chapter called "Overrun," calls President Bush "disturbingly vague and indecisive" on immigration, a hot topic in Arizona, which is a major transit point for illegal border crossings.

The deaths of immigrants in the desert are tragic, he writes, but they "do not, however, demonstrate why we have to reform our immigration laws. They demonstrate why we have to enforce our immigration laws. If our border with Mexico were sealed, as it should be, no illegal border crossers would be dying in the desert."

After listening to a lively early-morning speech in Phoenix to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Margo Kwasnoski agreed with Hayworth's hard line.

"I come from a Mexican background, but I agree," said Kwasnoski, an insurance company worker. "A lot of people see it as a racist issue, but I see it as security."

The Senate-passed immigration bill, Hayworth said, is a "hodgepodge of ill-advised measures" that would necessitate the "mother of all bureaucracies" to monitor immigrants. "The guest workers of today," he warned, "will be the illegals of tomorrow."

Mitchell, however, believes that many Republican moderates in the district feel more generous toward illegal immigrants, and he backs the middle ground favored by Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D). He describes their approach with words such as "sensible" and "realistic."

"I think he really believes that's going to be his ticket," Mitchell said of Hayworth over Mexican food one recent afternoon. "I think he's out of touch with his district on [immigration policy]. He's out of touch with the state on it."

Mitchell, a former Tempe mayor and Arizona Democratic Party chairman who beat a two-term Republican incumbent in 1999 to win a seat in the Arizona Senate, is admired as an approachable and effective leader in the city, which is home to Arizona State University. The impressionistic statue shows him as a man tall enough to see the city's future -- a visionary.

But because Tempe forms only about one-third of the House district, he must win converts among Republicans and independents in Scottsdale, Mesa and parts of Phoenix and its environs. He is trying to link Hayworth to what he considers failures of the Republican leadership, including the "fiscal irresponsibility" of the soaring federal budget deficit and the "ineptness" of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Mitchell, who taught high school civics for nearly three decades, said he helped approve 31 balanced budgets in Tempe and the state Senate. On Iraq, he decried the decision to invade with what he called too few troops, insufficient protection and no plan. Congress should have asked more questions and, after the administration began the war, made sure the troops were protected, Mitchell said.

"He's been there the whole time," Mitchell said of Hayworth. "I don't think people want more of the same."

Hayworth said the race will be tough because Mitchell is getting backing from national Democrats. But he predicted victory and dissed Mitchell by saying "he doesn't really stand up on issues."

A potential vulnerability of Hayworth's, according to de Burgh of the Rocky Mountain Poll, is his connection to the Abramoff scandal. Hayworth used sports skyboxes that Abramoff billed to clients, but he failed to report their use to the Federal Election Commission until the criminal investigation of Abramoff, since convicted, became public.

Joe Eule, Hayworth's chief of staff, later confirmed that the congressman had fundraisers in the skyboxes. His campaign committee repaid $12,800 to the Choctaw and Chitimacha for use of the suites five times. Both tribes were Abramoff clients. Hayworth, whose district once included a significant Indian population, said large contributions from tribes made sense.

"I was co-chair of the Native American Caucus. Of course tribes would step up, because I've stepped up for them," Hayworth said in an interview. Of Abramoff, who contributed $2,250 to his previous campaigns, he said: "I met him socially I think twice. He has never come to my office."

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odysseus
June 13, 2006, 06:13 PM
"This is no longer the country of Barry Goldwater. There's a thrust toward centrism in Arizona that's very apparent," de Burgh said.

This is true. And very sad. Many an Arizona will attest to the fact that much of AZ's growth is attributed to people from California either outpriced, or selling off and scaling up in AZ. It has begun to turn the political climate there, and I would also say that AZ's reasonably coded gun laws are at risk of further leftist paranoia motivated restrictions in the decades to come.

On the note of the immigration issue, AZ is also suffering from some of the reactionary emotional politics that are a part of this issue. In one conversation I had with a hispanic US born citizen I know, he revealed to me he took part in the "protests" we saw earlier - not because he cared for letting illegal immigrants recieve rights as citizens - but because he remembers the racism he felt growing up and wanted to lash out in some way as he only sees the illegal immigration issue as a racial one.

Hayworth should be commended for being outspoken among his peers for what is truly an issue we all should be concerned about, whichever side you are on. He is representing his voters more than his party - who I think cringes when he speaks openly on this issue.

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