Establishment candidates in Arizona, Florida rally against 'outsider' rivals

If you missed any of this year's primaries -- or just forgot -- here are the names and faces you need to know in November.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010

Tuesday's primaries in Arizona and Florida appear likely to deliver a few surprises -- surprises, that is, for anyone who accepted the conventional wisdom of just a few months ago.

Back then, Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) was considered in danger of becoming the next victim of a "tea party" uprising that was threatening Republican candidates seen as straying from conservative orthodoxy.

In what was taken as a sign of his nervousness, he brought in his 2008 vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, who vouched for his conservative bona fides. Now he enjoys a double-digit lead in the polls over his challenger, former representative J.D. Hayworth.

In Florida, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek was nearly written off this summer as he was being buried under an avalanche of television ads from his wealthy opponent, political novice Jeff Greene. Today, Meek leads Greene in the polls.

In that state's Republican gubernatorial primary, another wealthy businessman, Rick Scott, poured tens of millions of his money into his race against state Attorney General Bill McCollum. But after leading in the polls, Scott trails his rival.

The contests offer more evidence that establishment candidates can prosper in this year of the outsider. They are also a reminder that personal wealth cannot overcome personal flaws, particularly among political novices.

McCain's "comeback" is hardly on the scale of his victory in the battle for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. But it is another example of his tenacity as a candidate and his willingness to adapt to changing political circumstances, especially inside his party.

It is also a story of how McCain, anticipating potential trouble, worked to prevent conservative dissatisfaction from destroying his hopes for re-nomination.

Long before Hayworth emerged as a likely challenger, McCain took steps to protect himself, according to advisers.

He concluded soon after losing the 2008 presidential race that his party's base was rapidly moving into a posture of total opposition to President Obama. McCain quickly became an outspoken opponent of the president on virtually all major issues.

McCain also knew that conservatives still viewed him with suspicion, although during his presidential campaign he had softened his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and significantly hardened his position on immigration. With that in mind, he sought to prevent conservative groups and outside money from coalescing around a potential primary opponent.

McCain was particularly concerned about the Club for Growth, the anti-tax, anti-spending organization. It has been involved in many Republican primaries, and in May helped defeat Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in his bid for re-nomination.

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