- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2000

Throughout his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, as anyone who watched C-SPAN knows, Sen. John McCain often attracted wildly enthusiastic crowds. So, he's been there and done that. But even the much-tested Mr. McCain, who frequently joked during his campaign that he was aware of the fact that he was not the Senate Republican caucus' consensus choice for "Mr. Congeniality," had to be touched by the excitement that his return this week to Capitol Hill generated among his Republican colleagues, the vast majority of whom had endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the party's presumptive nominee. His fellow Republican senators, who have strong, principled disagreements with Mr. McCain's campaign-finance reform proposals, greeted him with a standing ovation. On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans provided him with yet another "hero's welcome," so Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported on its front page.

House Republicans seemed especially grateful upon learning that Mr. McCain intends to work hard on their behalf throughout the 2000 campaign season. He will be campaigning for Senate colleagues as well. And he reiterated his intention to "support the nominee of my party," noting that his camp has been holding ongoing discussions with Mr. Bush. Mr. McCain also repeated an earlier statement, which he made in a recent "60 Minutes" interview, declaring that he will "demand no concessions" from Mr. Bush as the price of his support.

But it was the enthusiasm Mr. McCain showed for helping vulnerable House Republican candidates that caused so much enthusiasm among Republicans this week. With the Republican majority in the House so small that a net loss of six seats would return control of the chamber to the Democratic Party, Mr. McCain will play an extremely important role in actively campaigning for 30 to 40 Republican candidates in key districts. Given his demonstrated ability to attract droves of independent and moderate Democratic voters in the presidential primaries, party officials were right to be encouraged. "He adds value to the Republican equation," observed Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who, as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), is in charge of retaining the GOP majority in the House. "Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction," Mr. Davis noted. "This is not a good day for the Democrats," NRCC Communications Director Jim Wilkinson gleefully told Roll Call. "McCain is proving just how good a team player he really is. We're more united than ever."

Publicly, Mr. McCain offered nothing but optimism. "I believe it's entirely possible to increase, not just retain, but increase our majority in the House," he told reporters after delivering his speech to the House Republican Conference. Privately, however, he expressed concern, particularly for several California districts, where he will be very active. He will also campaign in Florida. And he will focus on swing districts in Connecticut and Michigan, among other states. Mr. McCain offered another positive sign pointing to his determination to protect his party's congressional majorities. While he announced he would continue to pursue his his campaign-finance proposal, he said he would impose no "litmus test" on any vulnerable Republican candidates as a condition of his support.

Meanwhile, Mr. McCain had a message for Al Gore. Having dressed himself up in borrowed campaign-finance reform feathers following Mr. McCain's exit from the race, the vice president has been vigorously pursuing the voters that Mr. McCain enticed. Echoing the highly credible charge that Mr. Bush has been relentlessly leveling at Mr. Gore, Mr. McCain declared, "The vice president of the United States has no credibility on his assertion that he is in favor of campaign-finance reform until there is a full and complete investigation." If Mr. Gore is serious, Mr. McCain argued, then "he will demand" that Attorney General Janet Reno, behind whose skirt Mr. Gore has been hiding for three-and-a-half years, appoint an independent counsel to investigate. That, of course, will never happen, thus illustrating how politically duplicitous Mr. Gore's intentions really are. It's good to have John McCain there to let Mr. Gore and the voters know the truth.

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