The current debate in Arizona over illegal immigration, fueled by a new law that will make it a crime to be an illegal immigrant in the state, will propel the drive to unseat long-time senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, his Republican primary challenger predicted on Monday.
J.D. Hayworth, who plans to submit a petition with 11,000 signatures later on Monday to get his name on the ballot for the Aug. 24 Republican primary for the Arizona Senate seat, said "the momentum is on my side."
"Arizonans are telling John McCain, 'Thank you for your service, but it is time to come back home,'" Mr. Hayworth told The Washington Times' "America's Morning News" radio show.
Mr. Hayworth said there is an anti-incumbent movement sweeping the country ahead of this year's midterm elections, and he hopes to gain from it.
"People are involved, they are awakened, and they want a consistent conservative in the U.S. Senate," he said.
Recent polls show Mr. Hayworth narrowing the gap with Mr. McCain. A Rasmussen poll released April 16 showed Mr. McCain's support in the primary race at 47 percent, against Mr. Hayworth's 42 percent. In January, Mr. McCain had 53 percent support to Mr. Hayworth's 31 percent.
Mr. Hayworth, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2007, said Mr. McCain "has gone through a lot of campaign-year conversions," especially on the issue of illegal immigration, and the people of the state are now looking for "the right kind of change."
On Friday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a bill that would require police to question people about their immigrant status if police suspect they are here illegally. The bill, which President Obama called "misguided," has led to a wave of protests in the state.
Mr. Hayworth said Mr. McCain -- along with Sen. Jon Kyl, also an Arizona Republican -- now supports using the military to police the border but failed to support an "Enforcement First" legislation Mr. Hayworth proposed in 2005 that included that provision.
"There is a lot of flip-flopping going on in the McCain campaign," he said.
Mr. McCain and Mr. Kyl announced on April 19 a 10-point border security plan that includes deployment of 3,000 National Guard troops and construction of fences and checkpoints along the U.S.-Mexico border.
McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said later Monday that the senator has supported deploying National Guard troops on the border for more than a year. He said it has been Mr. McCain's constant position that border security has to be strengthened before immigration issue is considered. The sharp increase in violence on the border, such as the killing of a rancher and the Mexican drug war spilling into the U.S., has made border security more urgent, he said.
Mr. Hayworth's claim that Mr. McCain has been changing his position on illegal immigration "is not supported by facts," Mr. Rogers said.