PJ Media

McCain vs. Hayworth: No Contest for Conservatives

In his Pajamas Media piece “Please, No More ‘Half-as-Much’ Republicans,” J. Robert Smith states that swapping out John McCain for J.D. Hayworth in the upcoming GOP senatorial primary in Arizona is a “nice bargain from a conservative’s viewpoint.”

It would certainly be that, and an analysis of the voting records of these two men from the Grand Canyon State via vote ratings from the American Conservative Union (ACU), National Journal, and the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) highlights just how good a bargain it would be.

Looking first at the ACU numbers, we see that Hayworth’s ACU lifetime rating of 98 is significantly higher than John McCain’s lifetime ACU average of 81. In fact, in John McCain’s 22 years in the Senate prior to last year, he was only able to equal or surpass Hayworth’s low-water mark of 88 (in ’03) three times (’94, ’95, and ‘96). What’s more, with the exception of 2003,  Hayworth voted with the ACU position at least 96 percent of the time every year he was in Congress — a feat that John McCain has only achieved once.

With respect to National Journal’s ratings, Hayworth’s average score for the 12 years he served in the House was 22 points higher than John McCain’s average rating over this same period (National Journal ratings are only available for McCain for this 12 year period, as he did not vote enough in ’07 or ’08 to receive a rating and scores are not available prior to ’95). To put this in perspective, this gap is greater than the 21-point margin in 2008 between Senators Sam Brownback and Arlen Specter. Additionally, just as it was with the ACU data, Hayworth’s least conservative year fairs very well against McCain’s average year. In fact, Hayworth’s least conservative score (78) is higher than any score John McCain has received from National Journal since 1995.

As for the ADA ratings, they too show that Hayworth is clearly the most conservative choice to represent Arizonans alongside Jon Kyl in the U.S. Senate. According to ADA statistics, McCain and Hayworth have voted against the liberal ADA position 85 and 96 percent of the time, respectively, over the course of their congressional careers.

However, as clear as this data shows the difference between these two men to be, the ideological gap between them is actually even greater, as the above analysis does not take into account that there are really two John McCains — the McCain of the late 80s and most of the 90s, and the oft-yielding maverick Republican that we have known since.

From 1987 when John McCain first entered the Senate through 1997 his average ACU rating was a respectably conservative 88, but from 1998 through 2008 his average score fell to a less than stellar 73. To put this in perspective, only four current Republican senators have a lifetime rating that is less conservative than McCain’s average rating over this latter period (Snowe – ME, Collins – ME, Voinovich – OH, and Murkowski – AK). And the clear distinction between these two periods is such that McCain’s least conservative result prior to 1998 of 80 has only been surpassed once since (an 81 in 2000).

John McCain’s penchant for spending time on the other side of the aisle in the last decade is also evidenced by the voting statistics from National Journal and the ADA. The average ratings received by John McCain from these two groups were 10 and 12 points less conservative, respectively, for the period since 1998 than they were for the period prior. In fact, since 2000 only six current Republican senators have received a National Journal rating for any given year that is less conservative than the average score of 62 that McCain has received since 1998. What’s more, since 2001, McCain has, on average, ranked as the 9th least conservative Republican in the Senate according to National Journal’s ratings. Contrast this with Hayworth, who in his 12 years in Congress ranked, on average, as the 46th most conservative member of the House — putting him solidly amongst the top third of Republican representatives during this period.

So as you can see, Hayworth is right when he states that “Arizona Republicans will have a clear choice in the August 24 primary.” On the one hand, they can choose John McCain’s unique brand of hit-n-miss conservatism, and on the other they can choose someone who actually is — at least as Washington Republicans go — a true conservative.

But regardless of the outcome, one thing is for certain: Conservatives across the country will be crossing their fingers in August in hopes that Arizona Republicans will get it right, because we could definitely stand to have fewer “half-as-much Republicans.”