Can a Democrat Win Sen. McCain's Seat in Arizona?

Can a Democrat Win Sen. McCain's Seat in Arizona?

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The Arizona Senate seat occupied by John McCain has been a fixture of the Republican Party for more than 40 years, with both holders -- McCain and Barry Goldwater before him -- winning the GOP nomination for president.

Can a Democrat move that mountain?

In a normal election year, the answer would be an unequivocal "no way." But this isn't your typical election year.

In passing the nation's toughest immigration bill, the state of Arizona last week ushered in a tidal wave of nationwide scrutiny. Within the Grand Canyon State, the move has intensified the already unpredictable political winds.

While the nationwide firestorm is sure to cool down in the coming weeks, Arizona's internal political drama will only grow hotter until the primary elections on Sept. 2.

On that day, John McCain, holder of the seat for almost a quarter-century, will face far-right challenger JD Hayworth for the Republican ticket. Vying for the Democratic nomination will be moderate Rodney Glassman and left-wing candidate Randy Parraz (assuming Parraz collects the necessary signatures).

At first blush it seems to be a lopsided primary.

McCain, for one thing, is a household name. And Hayworth, too, is well known in Arizona: he's not only a former Congressman, but until recently was a popular conservative radio talk-show host in Phoenix.

In comparison, Glassman and especially Parraz are relative unknowns. Glassman, 31, recently resigned his post on the Tucson City Council to take the plunge. Parraz, 42, is a political organizer perhaps best known for getting arrested at a rally protesting Arizona's infamous sheriff, Joe Arpaio. (He was cleared of all charges.)

How can the Democrats possibly compete?

In short, by pinning their hopes on Hayworth.

If Hayworth, 51, succeeds in convincing the conservative base that 73-year-old McCain is too liberal, the state will have a far-right candidate on the ticket at a time when Arizona's immigration law has made it the butt of jokes on late-night television.

So far, Hayworth has come out as a surprise threat to McCain. Polls put him between just 5 and 10 points behind McCain, whom Hayworth has characterized as a flip-flopper -- particularly on the topic of immigration.

Meanwhile, Glassman has proven himself a quiet contender.

Polls this week put Glassman ahead of Hayworth by three points.

Should they face off, Hayworth is sure to take Glassman seriously. Hayworth's career in Congress, after all, was cut short by a Democrat in 2006, when Harry Mitchell unseated him after four two-year terms.