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John McCain with Barack Obama in 2009

by Ewen MacAskill in Tucson GUARDIAN.CO.UK

John Ladd points to the piles of empty water and Coke bottles, a yellow blanket and numerous other bits of debris abandoned on his cattle ranch in Cochise county, near Tombstone, Arizona. The sprawling estate, stretching 10 miles along the US-Mexico border, is a favoured route for those making the illegal, dangerous and often fatal, journey to what they hope is a bright new future.

Ladd recalls waking up one morning in 2004 and finding about 900 Mexicans milling about on his land. “You could not go anywhere without seeing one and the border patrol was screeching around everywhere,” he says.

This is Wild West country, a land of mesquite and sagebrush, of Apache trails and re-enactments for the tourists of the OK Corral shoot-out. The ranch, and other crossing points like it, lie at the heart of the immigration debate that has gripped the US over the past week. That debate is anchored to Arizona’s controversial extension of police powers in dealing with immigrants.

Already the subject of international attention, it is threatening to consume one of America’s best-known politicians, John McCain, former PoW, senator for Arizona, and Republican choice for a doomed campaign against Barack Obama in 2008.

McCain is up for re-election for a fifth term in the Senate and the resurgence of the immigration issue is potentially disastrous. Ladd has met the defeated presidential candidate three times since 2004: on each occasion McCain went to the ranch to see firsthand the disruption caused by the almost non-stop flow of immigrants. “He is a neat guy,” says Ladd. “But he’s done nothing. He tells me, ‘This is terrible, I need to help you.’ And nothing happens.”

Ladd, who voted for McCain in the past, now feels betrayed and is not planning to support him in the Republican primary in August.

For McCain, now 73 and one of the Republican party’s elder statesman, re-election to the Senate might have been routine. Instead he is battling for survival amid a Republican party being forced ever more to the right. In an email this week appealing for donations, he wrote: “I am facing what many have called the toughest political fight of my life.” He is saying it is proving tougher than the 2008 Republican primary race, which saw him resurrect a struggling campaign and beat Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani; tougher even than taking on Obama.

To survive in Arizona, McCain is having to reinvent himself at speed. The straight-talking maverick, who bucked his own party to form alliances with the Democrats, is now portraying himself as a mainstream conservative and courting rightwing talkshow hosts.

Astonishingly, McCain told Newsweek: “I never considered myself a maverick.” Yet, he frequently referred to himself as such in the 2008 campaign and even proudly included the label in the title of a book he wrote, The Education of an American Maverick.

McCain is disliked by the right for his approach to climate change, for restrictions he championed on campaign finance and for his support of the Wall Street bailout. He has now dropped his climate change plan, said he was misled about the bailout, and was muted when the supreme court undid his campaign finance initiative.

The biggest about-turn, however, has been on immigration. In 2007, McCain proposed a joint immigration bill with Ted Kennedy that would have opened the path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in the US. Other Republicans branded it an amnesty and killed it off.

This time, McCain has taken a hard line. He has described the new Arizona legislation, which requires police to stop all people they suspect of being illegal immigrants, as a necessary tool. The border has to be secured first, before immigration reform is tackled, he says; he proposes a 10-point plan which includes sending 3,000 National Guard members to the border, a move not so different from the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association’s 10-point plan.


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Story Courtesy Of The Guardian UK

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