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McCain defeats conservative primary challenger

Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy McCain, leave their polling station Tuesday in Phoenix after casting their votes. McCain defeated former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Associated Press

Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy McCain, leave their polling station Tuesday in Phoenix after casting their votes. McCain defeated former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

PHOENIX — Sen. John McCain routed conservative challenger J.D. Hayworth on Tuesday in the Republican primary in what could be the final campaign for the former GOP presidential nominee.

McCain spent more than $20 million to beat back an aggressive challenge from Hayworth, who relentlessly attacked the senator for his shifting stance on immigration and sought to tap into the anti-incumbent rage that has taken down other lawmakers in 2010.

"I will do my best to prove worthy of the honor," McCain told supporters. "I have never and will never take your support for granted, or feel I am entitled to your trust without earning it."

Two years after his bitter loss in pursuit of the White House, McCain, 73, now begins a final 10-week push and will be the heavy favorite. The Democratic race was still undecided, but whoever emerges will have an uphill fight in heavily conservative Arizona.

"My guess is that he will move back a little bit to trying to be a consensus builder, someone who will try to bring Democrats and Republicans together," said Bruce Merrill, a former pollster and McCain staffer who was surprised by the senator's sudden move to the right. "I hope so."

Hayworth, a former congressman and talk-radio host, had hoped to win over conservatives frustrated with McCain's famous willingness to buck his party and work with Democrats on issues like campaign finance, immigration and climate change.

In response, McCain abandoned his maverick label and cast aside one of the most powerful brands in American politics as he fought to reassure conservatives they could trust him, namely by taking a harder stance on border issues amid the debate over Arizona's immigration law.

McCain also portrayed Hayworth as a big-spending creature of Washington and a late-night infomercial "huckster."

In 2007, Hayworth appeared in an infomercial pitching free government money on behalf of a company accused of swindling customers.

Four Democrats were vying to take on McCain, but all lack the broad name recognition of McCain and the bank account the incumbent has from his 2008 presidential campaign.

McCain has never lost an election in Arizona and has rarely faced serious opposition since he succeeded Barry Goldwater in the Senate in 1986.

GOVERNOR wins: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, is headed to the general election after handily winning a GOP primary marked by a surge in her popularity after she signed a tough law targeting illegal immigration. Brewer defeated little-known moderate Matthew Jette and Buz Mills, a businessman whose name remained on the ballot even though he suspended his campaign in July. Brewer, who inherited the job last year after former Gov. Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary, will meet Democrat Terry Goddard in the November race. Goddard, Arizona's attorney general, was unopposed for his party's nomination.

Vermont

Voters also went to the polls in Vermont, where Sen. Patrick Leahy easily defeated his Democratic primary opponent, Daniel Freilich, and now faces Republican nominee Len Britton, who was unopposed in the primary.

In early returns, businessman John Mitchell and former talk show host Paul Beaudry were running neck and neck for the Republican nomination for the state's lone congressional seat. The winner will face the Democratic incumbent, Peter Welch.

In the governor's race, five candidates were running for the Democratic nomination to see who would face Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, unopposed in the Republican primary.

Alaska

In another closely watched race, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was favored to defeat attorney Joe Miller, who had the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and support from tea party activists.

Murkowski capitalized on her incumbency, her family name and her allegiance with former Sen. Ted Stevens, who died this month in a plane crash. Miller was supported by Palin and tea party activists, but had trouble turning those assets into votes and remained the underdog.

Palin's opposition to Murkowski carried on a pattern of challenging the Murkowski family. In 2006, Palin defeated Murkowski's father, former senator and then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, in the Republican primary.

Incumbents in favor

Throughout this year's pivotal midterm primaries — from Kentucky to California, Connecticut to Colorado — insurgent outsider candidates have often had the upper hand, tapping into an electorate angry at Washington and dispirited by the economy.

But Tuesday night, at least, was one for the establishment, where voters chose incumbents whose positions were more carefully groomed and their backgrounds generally less flamboyant than those of their challengers.

"The establishment candidates have closed the gap," said Christopher Mann, a political science professor at the University of Miami, who added that some incumbents helped their chances by shifting toward the more conservative positions of the insurgents on such issues as immigration and health care.

These incumbents "have moved in a way, issue-wise, so that the only differences are on personality and style," he said. "Who would you rather have running the economy — these people with spectacular stories in their past, or those who are serious and sober?"

The November elections are still likely to be decided in a climate of voter anger and disaffection with Washington. With President Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats holding both the House and Senate, Democratic incumbents are expected to feel the brunt of that anger.

This report contains information from the Associated Press, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.

McCain defeats conservative primary challenger 08/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 1:38am]

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