Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal’s Political Diary

Pot and Kettle to Do Battle in Arizona

John McCain has finally drawn a challenger in the Republican primary that will decide if he gets a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. Mr. McCain is likely untouchable in a general election, but the smaller GOP electorate is challenging. A Rasmussen Reports survey last year found that 61% of core GOP voters thought he was “out of touch” and only a third believed he was doing a good job representing conservative values. Since then, his high-profile opposition to ObamaCare and a raft of TV ads has likely helped boost his numbers.

Nonetheless, former Congressman J.D. Hayworth is convinced his state’s senior senator is vulnerable. Mr. Hayworth served 12 years in Congress until he was ousted in the 2006 Democratic landslide, in part because he was also seen as “out of touch” with constituents. He has since made a career as a conservative talk show host. He starts as an underdog — the same Rasmussen survey that spelled trouble for Mr. McCain also gives the senator a 53% to 31% margin over the feisty Mr. Hayworth.

But Mr. Hayworth is confident he can catch up by portraying the 2008 GOP presidential nominee as someone who has “enabled” Barack Obama’s agenda on economic and foreign policy.

“I’m giving Arizona Republicans a clear choice between a consistent, common-sense conservative . . . or someone who describes himself as a maverick, but is a moderate,” he told the Washington Times yesterday. He pointed to Mr. McCain’s votes in favor of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and his opposition to interrogation techniques used on terrorist detainees. No doubt Mr. Hayworth will also focus on Mr. McCain’s immigration policies, including his 2005 bill that combined amnesty with a new guest worker program.

But Mr. McCain will be showcasing his own grass-roots bona fides by bringing in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, his 2008 running mate, to campaign for him on March 26. Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown is also scheduled for a campaign appearance. And Mr. McCain also has a lot of ammunition to use against Mr. Hayworth.

The outspoken former congressman may have talked a good game when he was in the House. But when it came to federal spending he — more than Mr. McCain — was an “enabler” of questionable budget items. It was Mr. Hayworth, not Mr. McCain, who voted for a 2003 prescription drug benefit that added enormously to the nation’s future liabilities. It was Mr. Hayworth who voted for bloated farm and highway bills, while Mr. McCain opposed them. It was Mr. Hayworth who was a consistent seeker and supporter of pork-barrel Congressional earmarks. Mr. McCain, on the other hand, never requested earmarks in appropriations bills and often led a crusade against those he felt were improperly slipped into bills.

All of this will make for a lively Republican primary and national political reporters can be counted on to portray the race as a moderate veteran against a “Tea Party” upstart. But the reality is a lot more complicated. Let’s just say either man would have trouble convincing Barry Goldwater, Arizona’s nonpareil conservative, that he was Goldwater’s true heir.