- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

Sen. John McCain of Arizona turned yesterday to the crucial task of winning Republicans, who have so far heavily favored Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.
He said he would focus on his "conservatism" and "electability."
"What I'm proving to them is that I'm forming a governing coalition," Mr. McCain said. "This is a crusade. Get with it, and you will enjoy the ride.
"I have to convince and tell our Republican Party establishment: 'It's great over here. Come on in. Join us. Join us in this effort to be an inclusive party. Join us in this effort to reach out.' "
Exit polls showed that Mr. McCain won only 28 percent of the Republican vote in Tuesday's Michigan primary, while picking up 80 percent of the Democrats.
Mr. Bush yesterday ridiculed Mr. McCain's need to begin attracting Republicans.
"I find it amazing that somebody running for president feels like, on the Republican side, now all of the sudden they've got to start reaching out to Republicans," Mr. Bush said.
The question of Mr. McCain's electability has arisen after two primaries in which Mr. Bush has drawn about 70 percent of the Republican vote. Both primaries were "open," meaning Democrats and independents who usually vote Democratic could participate.
In fact, although Mr. McCain defeated Mr. Bush by 7 percentage points in Michigan, an exit poll found that most Republican voters 47 percent to 43 percent say Mr. Bush is more electable than Mr. McCain.
Celebrating his victories, Mr. McCain set about rebutting Mr. Bush's argument that he's building his victories outside the GOP, among voters who likely will abandon him in November.
"I am a proud Reagan conservative," Mr. McCain said. "I love the Republican Party. It is my home… . We are creating a new majority, my friends. A McCain majority.
"As I look more electable, we'll start drawing more Republicans."
Vice President Al Gore yesterday tried to dissuade Democrats from continuing to support Mr. McCain, saying that he and Mr. Bush "echo one another in their efforts to attract the extreme right wing."
The two Republican candidates both favor "weakening Medicare" through private medical savings accounts, Mr. Gore said. And both agree that South Carolina should be left to decide whether to continue to fly the Confederate battle flag over its Statehouse.
The comments contrast what he said just a few weeks ago before droves of Democrats showed up at South Carolina and Michigan polls to support Mr. McCain. On Feb. 8, Mr. Gore praised Mr. McCain for proposing that part of the budget surplus be dedicated to shoring up Medicare for baby boomers' retirement.
Mr. Bush, meanwhile, began an attempt to expand his broad support within the GOP.
The Texas governor yesterday said he will set his sights on a traditionally Democratic audience Hispanics in California.
In Los Angeles yesterday, Mr. Bush, who has strong support among Hispanics in Texas and speaks Spanish fluently, addressed the Hispanic community in a statewide town hall meeting broadcast by satellite to Fresno, Sacramento and San Francisco.
He also visited the International Church's Dream Center, an outreach group providing food, clothing, housing, education and job training to needy children and adults.
Later, Mr. Bush traveled across town to Loyola Marymount University for a question-and-answer session arranged by the Spanish-language network Univision.
"There's a lot of work to be done by Republicans in California in convincing Hispanics to join us. There's a strong suspicion out there that Republicans don't listen to Hispanics," he said.
"But I want Latino Democrats to vote for me on March 7 and I want them to stay with me in the fall, because of my heart and my vision."
That vision, he told the televised town hall, includes taking steps to help Mexico "develop a strong middle class."
"The best hope for Mexico and Central America and all countries south of us is to encourage job growth. If they have good jobs, they won't feel pressure to come here."
"It's important for the people in America to see what can happen when you hear the universal call to love your neighbor."
Mr. Bush yesterday spent little time talking about Mr. McCain, but blamed his Michigan loss on Democrats "trying to hijack the election." He declared that would stop in upcoming states that require voters to decide on one party or the other.
That fact, he said, brings him comfort, since few of the remaining state primaries allow independents and Democrats to cross over onto the Republican ballot.
"Obviously, I wish I had won, but there's a silver lining in that cloud," Mr. Bush told reporters in California. That state, which holds its primary March 7, chooses 162 delegates to the Republican National Convention, the most of any state. And while anyone can vote in the winner-take-all primary, only the votes of Republicans count toward the allocation of delegates.
"March 7 was always going to be an important date, and it still is."
In Washington state, which holds a primary next week, Mr. McCain spoke glowingly of his "overwhelming and phenomenal victory" in the Michigan and Arizona primaries.
After Washington, Mr. McCain planned to swing this weekend through Ohio, Georgia and Virginia. The latter votes in an open primary Tuesday. He then heads to California, where he expected to spend about half of the next two weeks. Mr. Bush, who also plans to spend lots of time in California, was planning stops in Virginia, Georgia, New York, Ohio and Missouri.

Thomas Elias reported from California and Dave Boyer reported from Michigan for this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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