05/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Minutemen Founder Challenges McCain For Senate

PHOENIX - At a news conference today, Chris Simcox, founder of the Minutemen, formally announced his intention to challenge John McCain for his Arizona Senate seat.

The Minutemen are a controversial group of volunteers who patrol the border and report activity to U.S. Border Patrol agents. Simcox, along with Jim Gilchrist, founded the Minutemen Project in 2005. The Minute Civil Defense Corps later spun off from that group after a public spat over the way funds were raised and managed. According to Simcox, McCain accused the Minutemen of being "more harmful than the drug cartels."

At first glance, Simcox appears to be an unlikely candidate, but in a state where Sheriff Joe Arpaio rose to local folkhero status for building tent-based cities and jailing people living in the country illegally (landing his own Fox Reality show titled, "The Toughest Sheriff in America"), Simcox's candidacy could have surprising results. McCain won Arizona's ten electoral votes by only 9 points in November, and many attribute the narrowness of the victory to infighting within the Arizona GOP and ill will toward McCain from within the party.

In recent years, infighting within the Arizona Republican Party has been ongoing and has centered around immigration. Many of rank and file Arizona Republicans re-registered as independent voters, citing McCain's immigration policy as a key factor. Last August, Republican consultant and former state senator Stan Barnes, speaking about the split within the party, said McCain is "reviled" by much of the Arizona GOP leadership.

Simcox's campaign manager told the Arizona Capitol Times that he is confident they will raise the $10 to $15 million needed to mount a serious challenge to McCain. Indeed, Simcox has long had the support of several Washington, DC based immigration reform groups who have deep pockets and a wide network of major donors. Although Simcox says he has little money to start, his campaign is up and running with two paid staffers already in place.

Three years ago, Simcox came under fire by some Minutemen and donors for partnering with Alan Keyes's Declaration Alliance for fundraising campaigns and financial management. Some supporters interpreted the move as a sign that Simcox had Congressional ambitions and accused him of ingratiating himself with beltway insiders. Some even claimed that friends of Keyes were lining their pockets while Minutemen were forced to pay out-of-pocket for expenses that were supposed to be covered.

Although it is clear that immigration will be at the forefront of the campaign, Simcox balks at suggestions that he will be a single-issue candidate whose only claim to fame is opposing immigration. He says he also opposes bailouts, economic stimulus, and abortion. In addition, he has been vocal on the issue of a federal ban on same-sex marriage, saying marriage should be left to the states to decide.