- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

GREENWOOD, S.C. John McCain defended inconsistencies in his voting record on public campaign financing as honorable compromises yesterday and accused George W. Bush of "savagery" in his criticism. Both men courted the political middle, which could be crucial in Saturday's primary.
A new Los Angeles Times poll showed the race a statistical dead heat among likely voters. Mr. Bush leads the Arizona senator by more than 2-to-1 among conservative Republicans, while Mr. McCain leads the Texas governor by the same margin among centrist independents and Democrats.
Both campaigns tried to strengthen weak spots yesterday.
* Mr. Bush focused on education as an issue that could appeal to centrists, particularly women. Advisers were fretting over internal polling indicating that Mr. Bush's sharp attacks on Mr. McCain may be hurting him with female voters.
* Mr. McCain began rebroadcasting two TV commercials that tout his conservative credentials, including one that notes his anti-abortion voting record and efforts to take pornography off the Internet.
Mr. Bush sent 135,000 pieces of mail to independents and Democrats eligible to vote in the Republican primary, while Mr. McCain said luring those voters was a key to his electoral strategy and to his effort to reshape the Republican Party.
Mr. Bush has criticized Mr. McCain for inconsistency on public financing of congressional campaigns, which Mr. McCain says he opposes, but has voted for as part of reform packages.
"You've got 200 staffers out combing John McCain's voting record trying to find some kind of contradictions there," said Mr. McCain. "I'm sure they will find some contradictions there."
"I'm not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Mr. McCain said. "I will make compromises; that's the essence of legislating… . I'm saying that I would rather have something that had some public financing in it than the present system."
Mr. McCain, who has been trying to brand Mr. Bush as a negative campaigner, said of his opponent's criticism: "This kind of savagery is not necessary in an American political campaign."
Mr. Bush, asked about Mr. McCain's complaint during a news conference in Saluda, said: "How can you call it 'savagery' if the man made five votes, legitimate votes, on the floor of the Senate? It's not savagery; it's what we call full exposure, full disclosure… . I'm going to continue talking about differences of opinion."
Mr. Bush had his own complaints about Mr. McCain's campaigning, especially his appeals to independents and even Democrats to vote in the open primary.
"People are welcome to come into the party. That's fine with me," Mr. Bush said. "I just don't want Democrats coming in to vote against me because they think my opponent will be easier to beat in November."
Mr. McCain portrayed his reaching outside the Republican Party in the primary season as a positive step.
"I'll reach across the partisan aisle and extend a hand to Democrats," he said. "The American people are weary of us constantly, constantly fighting with one another and getting gridlock and never getting anything done."
Mr. McCain even left open the possibility that he would accept the Reform Party's presidential nomination assuming he won the Republican Party's first.
Asked if he would accept the Reform nomination, he replied: "Sure I would, as long as they know I'm the nominee of the Republican Party."
Most Reform Party talk concerns the possible nomination of Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot, but at least a few members were suggesting yesterday that Mr. McCain would make a good fit.

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