Minuteman founder to challenge McCain in primary

Anti-immigration leader Chris Simcox is stepping down from his group to run against the Arizona senator, who has a moderate record on the issue.

Published April 21, 2009 6:40PM (EDT)

Arizona Sen. John McCain may have spent more than 20 years representing his state in the Senate, and he may have gotten his party's presidential nomination last year, but that doesn't mean conservative activists will let him cruise to reelection next year. Chris Simcox, who founded the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a vigilante group that conducts patrols looking for illegal immigrants, has announced that he'll be stepping down from the organization and challenging McCain in the Republican primary for his seat.

"John McCain has failed miserably in his duty to secure this nation's borders and protect the people of Arizona from the escalating violence and lawlessness," Simcox said in a statement announcing his decision. "He has fought real efforts over the years at every turn, opting to hold our nation's border security hostage to his amnesty schemes. Coupled with his votes for reckless bailout spending and big government solutions to our nation's problems, John McCain is out of touch with everyday Arizonans. Enough is enough."

Politico's Ben Smith, who broke the news, comments, "Simcox, with a national base and a high profile on the right, is well positioned to give McCain a serious local headache. He'll find some allies among the conservatives who recently took over the Arizona Republican Party from McCain's allies, and he has a national fundraising base."

That's true enough, but it's unlikely Simcox will be anything more than a headache for the incumbent -- certainly it seems extremely unlikely that Simcox could defeat McCain. While the challenger might be able to attract the support of conservatives in the state GOP, with whom McCain has long had issues, and can likely force the senator to expend more money and energy than he'd like in defending his seat, several factors suggest he won't be able to win the Republican nomination. First off, it's difficult in any situation to beat an entrenched incumbent, especially one with a national profile like McCain's. Second, there's a lot of dirt out there to be dug up about Simcox, and a lot of people who are disenchanted with him, even within the ranks of the various Minutemen groups. And finally, independents, who are the traditional source of McCain's strength, can vote in the primary.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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