Don’t laugh.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely 2010 Republican Primary voters in Arizona finds the longtime incumbent in a virtual tie with potential challenger J.D. Hayworth. McCain earns 45% of the vote, while Hayworth picks up 43%…

Hayworth, a conservative former U.S. congressman who now is a popular radio talk show host in Phoenix, is reportedly interested in the race but has not formally declared for it. He captures 59% of the male GOP vote, while McCain wins 58% of female voters.

Younger GOP voters like Hayworth more than their elders. McCain has a solid lead among the relatively small number of moderate and liberal Republicans in the state while Hayworth picks up a plurality (48%) of conservatives.

Remember, Reid and The One are itching to revive amnesty in the Senate next year as part of their grand “piss off every last independent in America” strategy. What’s an open-borders Maverick with a conservative primary challenger breathing down his neck to do?

Bill Kristol says it’s time to pull out the big gun.

[W]ho could help McCain beat back a populist conservative challenger? Sarah Palin. I predict that Palin will come to Arizona next summer to campaign for McCain, will make an impassioned case for him, and will help him win. She will thereby repay McCain for his confidence in picking her last year, help keep McCain as a crucial voice in the Senate for a strong foreign policy, and get credit for being a different kind of populist conservative—a Reaganite, not a Buchananite, populist—than the immigration-obsessed, voter-alienating (he was ousted in 2006 in a Republican district) Hayworth.

The conditions for a Palin cameo are ideal: (a) It’s the base who’ll determine the winner, (b) there’s no credible Democratic challenger (yet?) and thus little risk of an anti-Palin backlash at the polls, (c) McCain’s so notoriously squishy that even the Palin-haters can’t convincingly smear him as a “theocon” or whatever by association, and (d) if there’s any politician in America who’s already linked in eternity to Palin, it’s John McCain. The information’s already priced into his political stock. All he needs is a few appearances from her on the trail. I’m sure she’d do it too, not only as a favor to Johnny Mac but because endorsing him over a “true conservative” blunts the media narrative that she’s severed all ties to the center. So why do I think it’s not going to happen? Because I suspect it’d be awfully hard for a mavericky Maverick to swallow his pride and ask for the support of someone who’s loved by his constituents in a way he’ll never be. He’s endured a year of conservatives telling him how horrible his campaign was and how Palin was the only good thing about it. Now he’s going to beg her to carry him over the finish line? Put me down for ten bucks on “no way.”

Update: Speaking of “no way”:

Crist’s comments, in a brief interview with Hotline OnCall, are the latest indication that many prominent GOPers view Palin more as a liability than an asset — even if, like Crist, they are courting the right…

[I]nstead of hitching himself to a rising star in the GOP base, Crist simply noted Palin’s apparent lack of interest in the race. Her support “hasn’t been offered,” he said when asked if he would welcome her backing.

Pressed whether he’d accept the endorsement if Palin offered it, Crist declined to answer, shutting the door of his SUV and driving off.

Crist’s coolness to her makes more sense than McCain’s, as Florida’s a bit more purple and he lacks the advantage of incumbency. But even if he’s worried that a Palin endorsement would spark a backlash in the general election, he could desperately use it in the primary to undermine Rubio’s “true conservative” brand. I’m amazed he’d react this way — unless he’s already plotting a party switch and wants nothing to do with her.