McCain, Palin campaign together
Phoenix - John McCain and Sarah Palin will be back on the campaign trail on Friday, their first time campaigning together since McCain lost the presidential election a year and a half ago with Palin as his running mate.
This time, they have a different prize in sight: McCain's Senate seat.
The Arizona senator is in the midst of the toughest re-election battle of his Senate career, facing a primary challenge from the right. Former congressman and conservative talk-radio host JD Hayworth points to McCain's reputation for working with Democrats and says he is too moderate for Arizona Republicans.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska, joins McCain after an epic battle in Congress over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which McCain and Palin both opposed.
She will help McCain trump his conservative credentials at rallies on Friday and Saturday. They will hold a fundraiser on Friday at the same Phoenix hotel where they conceded the presidential election on November 4 2008.
Hayworth has tried to define himself as "the consistent conservative" in contrast to the "maverick" McCain. The four-term senator has long angered some Arizona conservatives by working with Democrats on issues such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and restricting campaign donations.
Before Hayworth left his radio show to officially enter the race, he used the airwaves to attack McCain's congressional record, most notably his work with the late Senator Edward M Kennedy on a bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Now, Hayworth is hoping to topple one of the Republican Party's best-known figures by reaching out to tea party groups and other conservative activists.
McCain, aged 73, has thwarted some of those efforts by securing the endorsements of key tea party figures including Palin and recently elected Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.
Fifty-five-year-old Hayworth said Palin is repaying McCain for launching her national political career.
"We all understand the very human impulse of gratitude," Hayworth said.
Hailed and criticised
McCain shocked the political establishment by choosing Palin as his running mate in 2008. She was a little-known, first-term governor when she gave a rousing speech at the Republican National Convention.
Palin has since emerged as a darling of social conservatives and a key Republican critic of Obama and Democrats in Congress. But she has also been berated as a lightweight not prepared for national office, and she was criticised last year for resigning as Alaska governor before her term was up.
Palin has admonished McCain's presidential campaign since their loss, saying in her book Going Rogue that there was substantial tension between her advisers and McCain's. She said she was kept "bottled up" from reporters during the campaign and was prevented from delivering a concession speech in Phoenix on election night.
Palin hasn't criticised McCain himself, and the senator has stood by his decision to choose her as his running mate, saying he was proud of the campaign and predicting she would be a "major player" in the Republican Party.
Palin took heat this week when she released a list of 20 US House seats she said conservatives should target in the upcoming midterm elections. The list, posted on her Facebook page, featured a US map with circles and cross hairs over the 20 districts.
Critics said it was inappropriate to use gun imagery, especially as a handful of Democrats who supported the health care overhaul reported receiving threats of violence.
McCain defended Palin, saying it was common practice and "part of the lexicon" to refer to targeted congressional districts.