WASHINGTON – At 6'5" and 290 pounds, with a booming voice to match, Rep. J.D. Hayworth isn’t afraid to throw his weight around when it comes to defending President Bush, the Republican Party or his own record in Congress.
And unlike some members of his party, this GOP congressman from Arizona doesn’t hold back on what he thinks of the Democratic inquiry into the possible intelligence breakdowns leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. He is especially critical of the so-called congressional leaks that led to a story about a foul-up at the National Security Agency, leaks he suggests came from Democrats.
"When people are leaking these things … you endanger American intelligence overall and expose to our enemies our sources and methods," he told Fox News. "You don’t do any service to your country; you have harmed the war effort in that regard."
Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney called the chairman of a joint House-Senate intelligence committee to suggest that it look into ways to bottle up the leak that had led to media reports about the contents of two Sept. 10 messages intercepted by the National Security Agency, which until the intelligence committee inquiry, had been kept under wraps.
The committee leaders asked the Justice Department to look into how the memos were leaked, but at least one Democrat, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, suggested that the Bush administration might have slipped the information to the press.
Hayworth said the leak is not springing from the administration, but is one of a long stream opened by Democrats who use them to engage in political, backbiting campaigns. The result of the latest, he said, is the misdirection of attention away from the war on terrorism.
"I hope people understand the difference," between legitimate inquiry and political skullduggery, he said. "This type of ‘gotcha’ game could be very dangerous."
Dangerous indeed, agreed Ron Maynard, a businessman and Democratic "outsider" who is running for the primary nod to face Hayworth in November. But the problem isn't just leaks, Maynard said, it's congressmen like Hayworth who don't have what it takes to see the country and state all the way through this fragile time.
"You’re dealing with people in elected office and it’s an election year — everyone is pointing fingers at each other," he said. "We need someone with far-sighted vision."
Hayworth's supporters say it's not merely vision but energy that makes him right for the job.
"J.D. Hayworth consistently brings high energy to our efforts and creativity to our debates," said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee of which Hayworth is the first member from Arizona.
Hayworth, who rose to prominence in Arizona as a television sportscaster and won his seat in 1994 on the wave of the Republican revolution, plays an important role in how federal money is doled out. One of his latest functions is to work on a Republican action team aimed at pushing the GOP prescription drug plan.
And as much as he has kept strict ranks with his party, he has worked well on a bipartisan basis to get work done and to bring home the bacon to his state, observers say.
"He’s up front and he’s out there," said Brian Murray, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. "Overall, he’s been a superb member of Congress."
Despite the efforts to work gingerly with the opposition on policy, Hayworth admits that none of it has much chance of success without Republicans in charge of the Senate and with a larger majority in the House.
That means surviving his own challenges back home.
Arizona earned two new congressional seats as a result of the 40 percent increase in population over the last decade. Much of the increase is in Hayworth's newly-defined 5th Congressional District, which includes suburban Phoenix, Scottsdale, Flagstaff and Mesa. In fact, Hayworth can count only 15 percent of his previous 6th district constituency in his new district.
"He has traded in a rural voter for a very urbane, educated suburban district and I think that plays to my strength," said Craig Columbus, a businessman running for the Democratic nomination.
"This district is ready for change, which may sum up everything," said Larry King, a Democrat who has enlisted the help of heavy hitters like Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to help with his congressional bid.
"Mr. Hayworth just toes the party line — if the leadership tells him to vote a certain way he does," King said.
Hayworth disagrees, saying he's toeing the American line, which is one and the same as the Republican platform.
"Voters will determine who has stood up consistently for a strong national defense, for a strong national security, for economic security that allows Americans to keep and spend more of their own money," he said, throwing in healthcare for seniors and education. "I think Americans understand who will be the better custodians of their future."