AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth vs. Harry Mitchell

After 12 years in Congress, Republican J.D. Hayworth is the first-ever Arizonan with a seat on the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, so many conservatives would think his re-election in Arizona’s 5th District should be a cinch.

But that’s not the case. This year, Hayworth (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%) faces one of the best-known politicians in his Tempe-based district in Harry Mitchell, teacher, former school board member, mayor of Tempe for 14 years and state senator. At 66, Mitchell could well be dubbed “Mr. Tempe” and clearly represents the stiffest Democratic challenge to Hayworth in a decade, ever since the GOP lawmaker won his second term over a Big Labor-backed former Democratic state chairman by just 48% to 47% in 1996.

“I’m fond of quoting Mark Twain,” mused Hayworth on the similarities with that brush with defeat in ’96 and his tough challenge this year. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. The left doesn’t like me very much because I’m a spokesman for conservatism, and I make no apologies for calling my enemies on the left what they are.” “So,” says Hayworth, “[Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman] Rahm Emanuel [Ill.], [left-wing moneybag] George Soros and the liberal 527s, and ‘Boss’ [John] Sweeney of the AFL-CIO will probably spend up to $6 million—for my opponent or through independent expenditures against me. In a perverse sort of way, I’m honored. I didn’t think I looked like Lee Majors [star of TV’s long-running ‘Six Million Dollar Man’]!”

As to why the 6-5, 225-pound lawmaker is a major target of the left, Hayworth—a former TV sportscaster and voracious reader of history—is a maestro at inveighing against liberals on subjects ranging from property rights to abortion to the success of the Bush tax cuts. Most recently, this virtuoso of the one-minute address on the House floor has emerged as a premier opponent of illegal immigration.

Hayworth has actually offered a “sense of the House” resolution calling for no guest-worker program in any immigration measure enacted by Congress, and he tried to amend the Sensenbrenner border-security ball to require proof that borders have been secured within two years after passage. The Arizonan also appears in David Bossie’s compelling movie on illegal immigration and has written a hard-hitting book Whatever It Takes (Regnery) on the issue.

Inevitably, Hayworth is asked if breaking with the President and a number of his fellow Republicans in Congress on a volatile issue feels a bit uncomfortable. “No, it doesn’t, because I’m not a rubber stamp,” he replies. Could there be any more cogent reason for conservatives to help plain-speaking J.D. Hayworth?