Since his last re-election in 2004, Rep. J.D. Hayworth has become a force on the national Republican political scene.
He co-wrote “Whatever It Takes,” a bare-knuckled book about border security and the war on terrorists. The text has bolstered Hayworth’s credentials as a spokesman for the conservative movement.
Radio talk show host Sean Hannity wrote an introduction for the book; Rush Limbaugh contributed a back-jacket promotional review.
Hayworth has slimmed down, gotten a crewcut, and emerged as a bona fide media personality. The producers at cable TV talk programs “Hannity & Colmes,” “O’Reilly Factor” and the “Laura Ingraham Show” have him on speed-dial.
Hayworth takes credit for forcing President Bush to back down from a comprehensive immigration-reform agenda the president outlined in Yuma on May 18.
Instead, Bush signed legislation that funded construction of 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border while the president was in Paradise Valley on Oct. 4.
“He, like it or not, has accepted a de facto policy of enforcement first,” Hayworth said. “And while I’m castigated in some quarters for that among the left sophisticates, the fact is, the people of the 5th District, this is precisely what they want. And I was happy to get that done.”
Yet, back in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District, the Republican six-term incumbent finds himself in the toughest race of his political career.
Hayworth is facing former Tempe Mayor and state Sen. Harry Mitchell, a politically connected and well-financed Democratic challenger.
Hayworth held just a 3- percentage-point advantage against his hard-charging opponent, according to a survey released Oct. 16 by New Yorkbased non-partisan polling firm SurveyUSA.
Furthermore, the race has shifted from “Leans Republican” to “Tossup,” according to ratings released Monday by The Cook Political Report, a Washington-based non-partisan newsletter that analyzes U.S. Senate and House races.
After 12 years in office, voters in the district, which takes in Scottsdale, Tempe, Ahwatukee Foothills, Fountain Hills and parts of Mesa, Chandler and Phoenix, know exactly what Hayworth is all about, Hayworth said.
Hayworth is an unwavering advocate for border enforcement, winning the war in Iraq and lowering taxes.
His Republican colleagues respect his consistent support of the majority platform, said former U.S. Rep. and current Arizona Republican Party Chairman Matt Salmon.
“When he’s on the floor, it’s kind of like a whirlwind. Nobody misses him. He’s a very, very imposing, strong voice,” he said.
As a result, Hayworth has been able to secure funding for the state’s universities and solar energy research, Salmon said.
Hayworth rarely misses the opportunity to sum up his positions quickly — in two or three sentences.
“I really don’t know any other way to do it. I think it’s important that people know you mean what you say and you say what you mean, so I’ve just been able to step forward in that way,” Hayworth said.
He admits that his style makes him an easy target to lampoon.
“His outspokenness would be a good thing if it was forward thinking and got anything done, but I look at him as kind of a blowhard,” said Lisa Mc-Donald, a Scottsdale software consultant and volunteer with MoveOn.org, a liberal political action group.
He’s impossible to pin down on anything other than his signature issues, she said.
Hayworth took a curious course to Washington.
He grew up in North Carolina, a big kid and a star football player in high school. He jokes that he was recruited to North Carolina State University as a right tackle, but ended up left out, because of an injury.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communications and political science in 1980 and ventured into broadcasting, both on radio and television. He served as sports anchor on Channel 10 in Phoenix for seven years.
From that unusual launching point, he ran for the U.S. House in a district that originally stretched across nearly half the state. It ran from Four Corners to Safford, from Flagstaff to Florence, and took in portions of Scottsdale and Mesa. He took office in 1994.
The largely rural district became one of the state’s most urban two election cycles ago following redistricting.
“No matter the changing geopolitical boundaries, the one constant is this: serving the people who send me to the Congress of the United States. By that, I don’t mean those who necessarily voted for me. I mean working hard to be a representative of all the people,” Hayworth said.
The switch from sportscaster to lawmaker wasn’t as unusual at it may seem, he said. Both jobs are conducted in the public eye.
“The biggest difference is that on television — it just seems anecdotally — out of every 10 people, seven or eight would have something nice to say; two or three would be less than complimentary. In running for public office and serving in public office, it seems about half and half,” Hayworth said.
“And if you ever get it to where six out of 10 are saying, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job,’ if you could project that across the electorate, well, that means you’d win in a landslide,” he said.