ex-congressman Ross Franklin

Former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth officially launched his race for the U.S. Senate on Presidents Day, saying Arizona's "almost-president" was going to feel a hard charge from his right.

On Day 1 of a three-day announcement tour, Hayworth prepared a crowd of about 150 at downtown Tucson's El Presidio Park for a classic political confrontation, with "John McCain and the Washington establishment on one side and we the people on the other."

He blasted the senator for siding with liberals on important issues, from drilling in Alaska to waterboarding to "sounding for all the world like Al Gore" on global warming.

Hayworth, who calls himself the "consistent conservative," said that lately, McCain sounds as though he's having a 2010 conservative conversion. Hayworth joked that he wants to have three chairs when they debate, one for him and two for McCain - one for the conservative talker and one for the liberal lawmaker.

The crowd applauded when Hayworth said Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founder Chris Simcox bowed out of the race and would back him instead.

A Behavior Research Center poll last month gave McCain's his lowest approval since 1994, with 41 percent saying the senator was doing an excellent or good job. Among just Republicans, however, 52 percent approved of McCain's performance.

Marana resident and retired manager George Hammond, who was there to back Hayworth, said McCain is "no more a conservative than the man on the moon."

Bob Oppel, a retired firefighter and former McCain supporter, said, "At some point during his political career, it became obvious that he was entertaining the thought of national office, and I noticed a shift in his conservative stance to a more liberal position."

McCain sent out a statement charging that Hayworth not only distorted his positions and lied about his stances, but was actually the one with a "record of liberal big-government spending and ethically questionable conduct."

McCain, who announced last week that he had the support of the entire Republican congressional delegation, said Monday he also has the backing of 31 Arizona mayors, including Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, who applauded McCain's support of Arizona bases against closures.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or rbodfield@azstarnet.com