McCain and Hayworth: Tale of the Tape

[Editor's note: See also McCain's KFYI Interview]

Who is more conservative -- John McCain, or his primary rival, J.D. Hayworth? Hayworth
officially announced his candidacy for the Senate on Monday. The Arizona Republic reported that

McCain has been portraying Hayworth as one of the big-spending Republicans who, during President George W. Bush's two terms, largely squandered the party's reputation for fiscal discipline.

Both men have served in Congress for multiple terms. J.D. Hayworth was in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2007. Their voting records have been scored. So who is more conservative?

The most recent online scores from the American Conservative Union are from 2008. In that year, John McCain scored 63 and had a lifetime average of 81.43. (All scores reported here are on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being perfectly conservative according to the scorer.) His lifetime average put him in 32nd place in the 2008 Senate, or in the top 32%.

J.D. Hayworth's last full year in Congress was 2006. His 2006 ACU score was 96, his 2005 score was 100, and his lifetime average was 97.56. His lifetime average put him in 16th place in the 2006 House, or in the top 4%.

Congressmen are also scored by the National Journal. McCain did not have enough votes in either 2007 or 2008 to qualify for a score. In 2006, his composite conservative score was 56.7, putting him in 46th place, or the top 46%. Only nine of 55 Republicans scored lower than McCain, including Arlen Specter, who later joined the Democratic Party, and Lincoln Chafee, who retired from the Senate and endorsed Barack Obama for president. McCain's economic, social, and foreign scores were 64, 46, and 58, respectively. His economic score was 36th-most conservative, his highest ranking in any category that year.

The National Journal gave Hayworth a 2006 composite score of 85, putting him in 46th place, or the top 11%. His economic, social, and foreign scores were 80, 94, and 73, respectively.  His economic score was 84th-most conservative, or in the top 20%.

The table below summarizes these standings.



ACU lifetime score



NJ 2006 composite score



NJ economic score



ACU ranking

Top 32%

Top 4%

NJ ranking

Top 46%

Top 11%

NJ economic ranking

Top 36%

Top 20%

In other comparisons, Hayworth was more conservative than Duncan Hunter in 2006, according to the National Journal. He was more economically conservative than Hunter, Dan Burton, and Mike Pence. He was more conservative on foreign issues than Henry Hyde.

Here are some of John McCain's major accomplishments in the Senate.

  • He sponsored McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform, much of which has been ruled unconstitutional. Despite the bill's attempt to limit the influence of moneyed interests in politics, Barack Obama was able to raise three quarters of a billion dollars in his presidential campaign.
  • He sponsored the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would have capped CO2 emissions at the 2000 level. It lost in the Senate on a vote of 55-43 in 2003. It was reintroduced in 2005, when it lost on a vote of 60-38.
  • He sponsored the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration bill in 2005. The Senate did not vote on it. Its follow-on bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, was sponsored by Arlen Specter in 2007 and cosponsored by McCain. It failed to pass committee.
  • He voted in favor of the $850-billion TARP bailout one month prior to the 2008 presidential elections and influenced other Republicans to support it.

Here are some things McCain said in 2008 when he was running for president.

  • "I think, frankly, the problem was with a Republican Congress."
  • "Look, I was for tax cuts; I wasn't for those tax cuts."
  • His complaints about Bush's policies: "Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10-trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously. Those are just some of them." He also complained about Bush's use of signing statements and executive privilege.
  • On Obama: "I have to tell you he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared [of] as president of the United States ... I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments."

Here are things J. D. Hayworth has said that appear most contradictory to McCain's stances.

  • "The American people likewise want to see enforcement first -- no tricks, no triggers, no amnesty, enforcing existing laws and closing loopholes to reaffirm that our great Republic is, in fact, a nation of laws."
  • "The tax relief package enacted in 2001 was central to pulling the economy out of the post 9-11 recession."

McCain, the "maverick," has been in Congress for 28 years, or since winning his first election in 1982. He is no longer fighting the establishment; he is the establishment. He personifies the compromise wing of the Republican Party, which has since become the dominant wing.

Hayworth represents the 1994 Contract With America Republicans. He first entered Congress in that historic turnaround, the first time Republicans took the majority of the House since 1952. He was voted out in 2006 when the House turned Democrat again on a referendum on Iraq, and the last time the unemployment rate was below 4.5%.

Iraq now seems to be behind us. And so does an unemployment rate below thanks to the 2006 and 2008 elections.

This Arizona primary election can be put in simple terms. Do Republicans want more compromise with Democrats and "bipartisanship," or would they rather take the Ronald Reagan approach: We win, they lose?

Randall Hoven can be contacted at or via his website,
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