- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

News AnalysisTexas Gov. George W. Bush is getting his strongest support from the Republican Party's conservative base and if he wins the presidential nomination, it will largely be due to the party faithful.
His chief rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, is drawing the bulk of his support from the party's centrist-to-liberal wing and from many Democrats and independent swing voters, too. And some conservative activists are concerned that if Mr. McCain wins the nomination, it could cause a deep split among the conservative Republican base.
For many conservatives, Mr. McCain's positions on several core party issues from campaign-finance reform to tax cuts to abortion are outside the mainstream of conservative beliefs. "There is no way that I could ever support McCain," said social conservative leader Paul Weyrich.
Other conservatives, however, think that Mr. McCain would be forced to reach out to them to unify his party and that most of them would rally around his candidacy to defeat a common enemy, Vice President Al Gore. "I think they would rally around John because when you get to his actual voting record, he's clearly a conservative and he's far better than Al Gore," said Bill Dal Col, who managed Steve Forbes' ill-fated presidential campaign.
"If McCain is the nominee, he'll look to unite the party and he'll have to reach out to the conservative base by going with a strong pro-life running mate," Mr. Dal Col said.
Still, many of the nation's biggest grass-roots conservative groups are fiercely against Mr. McCain's brand of reform politics and are investing heavily in Mr. Bush's candidacy including the National Right To Life Committee, the Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association and Americans for Tax Reform.
The NRLC, the largest anti-abortion organization in the United States, has been spending large amounts of money on an advertising campaign against Mr. McCain, who it says has waffled on pro-life issues in several interviews. In one of those interviews last year, he suggested that he would not want to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court's decision creating a legal right to abortion.
Asked if the NRLC would support Mr. McCain if he were to win the nomination, spokesman Carol Tobias replied: "That's a decision that would be made down the road. We're just going to hope that it never comes to that."
ATR, the anti-tax lobby, has also run anti-McCain campaign ads telling voters that Mr. McCain is "the only Republican candidate approved by the liberal New York Times," and that his campaign-finance reform bill is backed by "Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Big Labor."
But social conservative leader Gary Bauer apparently has no problem with Mr. McCain's positions on these and other issues. He endorsed the Arizona senator yesterday, saying he was the party's "best shot" to win the presidency.
Mr. Bauer's announcement caught some conservatives by surprise because of his strong adherence to the pro-life cause and the doubts expressed by the NRLC and the Bush campaign about Mr. McCain's commitment to it.
Meantime, Steve Forbes and his advisers have been sending signals that he, too, may endorse Mr. McCain. Mr. Forbes, who bowed out of the contest after losing in Iowa, New Hampshire and Delaware, is a champion of the flat tax and Mr. Dal Col said yesterday that Mr. McCain "said some nice things about the flat tax" in the New Hampshire primary.
"His rhetoric is definitely indicating a shift to the left, no question about it," Mr. Dal Col said. "But in the end, if John is the nominee, he clearly would govern center-right."
"If you look at Bush's rhetoric, while he sounds more conservative than McCain, his record in Texas is more moderate than his campaign rhetoric," he said.

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