Published March 06, 2010
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Amid criticism that he's too moderate, Sen. John McCain on Saturday said the Arizona GOP Senate primary should be about fixing the economy, not political ideology.
"My focus is on jobs and the economy, and jobs and jobs and jobs," McCain said.
He spoke at a campaign rally with one of the Republican Party's rising stars, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
McCain is facing a primary challenge from the right in what is expected to be the toughest re-election campaign of his Senate career. Former Phoenix-area congressman and talk-radio host JD Hayworth announced in January that he would challenge McCain.
Hayworth says McCain, a four-term Senator, isn't conservative enough for Arizona Republicans. He's criticized McCain for working with Democrats on high-profile issues, including measures that would restrict campaign donations and allow a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Brown became a conservative hero when he won his Senate seat in January in a special election to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. His election gave Republicans the crucial 41st vote needed to defeat Democratic legislation in the Senate.
Brown won his seat with help from "tea party" groups, a constituency that Hayworth is working hard to court. But Brown criticized Hayworth for a campaign ad that depicts McCain as a character from the movie "Avatar" under the caption, "John McCain: Nominee for best conservative actor."
"You can vote for somebody who has been fighting the battles, not only for our country but in Washington, or not," Brown said. "You can listen to the rhetoric or the mean-spirited advertising, or not."
Hayworth has dismissed Brown's support for McCain as political payback after McCain was one of the first prominent Republicans to support Brown's long-shot bid for Senator in Massachusetts, a strong Democratic state.
McCain and Brown spoke to about 150 spectators. Saturday's event was considerably smaller than the one a day earlier that drew upward of 1,000 people to a gymnasium at Grand Canyon University, a small Christian school in Phoenix. When a microphone failed, the senators spoke without it and were easily heard.
The Tucson area is a Democratic stronghold. Even though McCain won Arizona's 10 electoral college votes in the 2008 presidential election, President Barack Obama won Pima County, which includes Tucson.
As they did on Friday, McCain and Brown spent most of their time criticizing spending in Washington and the health care overhaul proposed by Democrats. They said federal budget deficits will burden future generations with considerable debt.
"For the first time, I think the American people are really aroused and speaking out against the generational theft we are committing," McCain said
Dick Dobson, a 75-year-old financial planner who splits his year between Tucson and Iowa, said he's a little more conservative than McCain but admires the senator's ability to balance the competing demands of the right and left.
"He seems to be right on the money for most conservative issues, and that's why I back him," Dobson said.
Brown's daughter played Saturday for Boston College in the semifinal game of the ACC basketball tournament. The senator's Arizona trip forced him to miss her game. Instead, he watched Arizona edge past Southern California in two overtimes.