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Nothing says "schadenfreude" like rumors of a Republican primary challenge against the man who, less than three months ago, was their nominee for the Presidency of these United States.

Yet it appears that such a primary challenge may be in the cards in Arizona, if the party's more rabid conservatives in the state get their way.

McCain has never faced a serious challenge in Arizona, from either party, since winning election to Congress in 1982 - he defeated his first Democratic opponent for the Senate, Richard Kimball, by over 20 points. Nevertheless, the current chaos within the rudderless GOP may apparently lead to conservatives taking their rage out on the party's former standard-bearer.

From that renowned bulwark of conservative intellectualism, the National Review:

But now that (McCain) has lost the presidency, there are some Republicans in Arizona who would like to see him lose his Senate office, too. "I’ll do anything I can to support his Republican opponent, whoever that might be," Rob Haney — who until last week was chairman of the Republican party in Arizona’s District 11 — told me recently. Haney has been a loud and vocal critic of McCain for years, arguing that McCain is "not a conservative in any way, shape, or form."

Indeed, McCain's performance in his home state has been mediocre at best since his 2004 reelection.

The first sign of discontent in the Grand Canyon State with regard to its senior Senator came in the Republican Presidential primary, when Arizona's native son was held to 47% of the vote (to 35% for his closest rival, Mitt Romney).

Subsequently, McCain underperformed Bush's 2004 numbers in the general election in his home state. Granted, McCain underperformed Bush almost everywhere, and by quite a bit, but that still doesn't inspire confidence.

Finally, McCain's polling numbers against a strong Democratic opponent - former Governor and current Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano - look terrible, showing Napolitano receiving 53% of the vote to McCain's 45%.

While the last two points speak to increasing Democratic strength in Arizona - the state may have gone Democratic this year, as it did in 1996, had McCain not been on the ballot - they also indicate a fading fondness for McCain personally in his home state, including among conservatives.

In McCain’s lackluster wins, Haney sees an opportunity. "The competition McCain has had before really were not big names or anything that would give him a problem," Haney told me. "If he had a big name against him, it might present a problem. In the presidential primary, most Republicans preferred a different candidate than McCain, so if he went head-to-head against one candidate, and his record was made an issue, that might be a problem."

We noted last weekend that Charlie Cook had written about rumblings of a serious primary challenge to a conservative, well-respected Republican Senator. This could well have been the race he had in mind...and the candidate may have been former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, defeated by Democrat Harry Mitchell in the 2006 wave:

For the moment, Haney and others are putting their hope in J. D. Hayworth, the former congressman who now has a radio talk show in Phoenix. On the air, Hayworth has pushed particularly hard on the issue of illegal immigration, labeling McCain’s "comprehensive" reform proposal an amnesty plan.

When I talked to Hayworth about a possible candidacy, he didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no. "That’s very flattering, but I don’t know," Hayworth told me. "That’s in the future. Obviously I have some polite but profound disagreements with John."

Hayworth is certainly a reliable conservative, but he probably doesn't have the mojo to take out McCain in a Republican primary - he's widely viewed as a slightly ridiculous, blustery figure.

Still, even the fact that there's a serious movement to primary the former Presidential nominee speaks to the current identity crisis within the GOP.

(Picture courtesy of WDCPIX).

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 06:45 PM PST.

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