Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) increasingly unsuspenseful reelection bid against primary challenger J.D. Hayworth has morphed very dramatically into a sequel of the senator's presidential race against Barack Obama two years ago.
Late Friday night, the Arizona Republican released the second television advertisement to date in which he positions himself in a pitched political fight with the administration on the topic of immigration reform. The first variation was far from subtle. Narrating the spot, Sheriff Paul Babeu took on the role of a ringmaster introducing viewers to the main draw: "A president versus a senator. It doesn't seem like a fair fight. Unless that senator is John McCain."
The most recent version played off that same theme. "The border-security plan of Senators McCain and Kyl calls for 3,000 additional troops to keep us safe," the ad goes. "President Obama says he'll send 524. This is no political game Mr. President. It is about Arizona lives. It is a fight we must win. And with John McCain on our side, we will."
McCain's punches aren't entirely unexpected considering how toxic the issue of immigration is in Arizona. But they don't end there. During a recent debate with Hayworth, he criticized the president's strategy for Afghanistan, acidly explaining his opposition to a July 2011 drawdown of troops. "That is an uncertain trumpet. No one follows an uncertain trumpet," said McCain.
"I am proud of the leadership position I have taken fighting this administration," he added.
Even Hayworth has gotten into the act, though with different intentions. The former congressman has tried his best to make McCain's failure to beat Obama in 2008 an albatross for the senator's reelection hopes in 2010.
"John," he said, at that same debate, "you should know about rejection sir, being rejected by the United States twice... John was sparing in his criticism of Barack Obama. If John had told the truth about President Obama the way he's spreading falsehoods about me, he would be president right now -- and maybe he would do a better job on the border."
A primary challenge in the state of Arizona practically includes a competition over who disdains the president more. But McCain's open willingness to make his election about Obama remains noteworthy, both for what it says about him and the president. More than a year and a half since losing the election, the senator is completely removed from his one-time role as partisan mediator and consummate negotiator. The early days of this administration, when he was targeted for help on various legislative fronts, seem practically quaint.
Obama, likewise, finds himself in a very different political world from the one he inherited upon entering office. It's worth recalling that he nearly won Arizona in the 2008 election (McCain's campaign manager himself thought the state would have been lost for Republicans if McCain hadn't been on the ticket). Today, the president has no traction with lawmakers in toss-up states -- certainly not those vying for conservative base votes. If legislative activity was lethargic over the first year and a half of the Obama presidency, it seems likely to come to a standstill in the months ahead.