- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2000

John McCain, once the great hope of liberals and reformers, appears to be on the ropes.
Aides and advisers inside and outside the McCain camp say it's because he let his war-hero and political-reformer image be overshadowed by his own negative campaign tactics.
"It looks like a very bad day for John McCain on Tuesday," said independent pollster John Zogby of the 13 Republican primaries and caucuses to be held tomorrow. He blamed the candidate for "stepping on his own message."
Although he defeated Gov. George W. Bush of Texas in New Hampshire, Michigan and Arizona, Mr. McCain's insurgent candidacy may not survive tomorrow's contests because "people liked the positive role model he was, but then he came out negative," Mr. Zogby said. "That ultimately hurt him."
Mr. Zogby said Mr. McCain's early supporters liked him for his war-hero past, a man of character who said "I won't lie to you."
"This evolved into a crusade to redefine the Republican Party, and left a lot of voters in the dust."
A fellow Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, charged that there was hypocrisy in what started out as Mr. McCain's signature issue, campaign finance reform.
"He's the guy who's gotten more of his campaign funds … from Washington lobbyists and special interests than everyone else," said Mr. McConnell, the foremost Senate opponent of the proposed campaign finance reform legislation.
Mr. Zogby notes that campaign finance reform has barely come up recently as Mr. McCain went on the attack against Mr. Bush and religious conservatives.
In television interviews yesterday, Mr. McCain defended his characterization of Mr. Bush's strategy in South Carolina as anti-Catholic. He again rejected the Bush campaign's claims that he was behind a massive telephone-call campaign that hinted that Mr. Bush was anti-Catholic.
Mr. Bush last month gave a speech at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, an institution with harsh theological differences with the Roman Catholic Church.
But Mr. McCain's own South Carolina campaign chairman, state Rep. Terry Haskins, is a graduate of BJU, and one of Mr. McCain's highest profile House supporters, Rep. Lindsey Graham, accepted an honorary degree from the school.
Mr. Haskins resigned last week from the McCain campaign in protest over Mr. McCain's tactics, saying Mr. McCain's "public lynching" of the university "threatens religious freedom in America."
Catholic leaders and Protestants, including some of Mr. McCain's key supporters, have accused the Arizonan of inciting religious warfare in order to win the nomination.
"I fault John McCain for picking at that wound," said former Reagan administration Education Secretary William Bennett. "A religious war is not a good thing."
Mr. McCain recruited Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer's endorsement after Mr. Bauer dropped out of the Republican nomination contest specifically to shore up Mr. McCain's support among Christian conservatives, said Bush campaign manager Karl Rove in a CNN interview yesterday.
But when he lost that vote in South Carolina, he turned on those voters and attacked two of their most visible leaders, the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Mr. Rove notes.
Indeed, South Carolina was pivotal. After his defeat there, Mr. McCain's campaign veered off the positive track.
Mr. Zogby said Mr. McCain is behind 2 to 1 among Republicans in Super Tuesday contests nearly everywhere.
His polling has Mr. McCain "leading in Massachusetts, ahead by two [percentage points] in Connecticut, but down by six in New York, down by 20 or more in Maryland, Ohio and Georgia, and down by 12 in Missouri," he said.
Mr. McCain "needs to win New England, and absolutely must win New York, and the best he can hope for is to win the popular vote in California," Mr. Zogby said. But only Republican votes will count for awarding all 162 of California's delegates, out of the 613 at stake tomorrow.
Even if he does that, he must also win Missouri tomorrow in order "to stay on his feet for the next round [of Republican primaries] on March 14, because he needs to go south of the Mason-Dixon Line and show he can win one," Mr. Zogby says.
Mr. Zogby's polling found that although Mr. McCain's strongest supporters remain Democrats and independents, he lags among Republicans.
"Connecticut and New York are testimonials to that. He once was clearly leading in both states," Mr. Zogby said.
Mr. McCain's history of alienating fellow Republicans extended to former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, who last month said Mr. McCain "so often now sounds just like [President] Clinton."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said last November of Mr. McCain's temperament: "If you're inclined to eruptions and bad language, that is an indicator of other things. I don't think it's a sign of leadership."
"I think John is playing politics with a lot of issues," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch told The Washington Times before he dropped out of the nomination contest.
Mr. Hatch says Mr. McCain has dissembled on his commitments to be a genuine reformer.
Mr. Hatch cited, for example, a bill Mr. McCain pushed to cut military spending at a time when many members of the military were on food stamps.
"I'm suggesting there was a political advantage in the eyes of the liberal press that hates the military, by bringing up an amendment that he knew he would lose on and that we would have to beat him on," Mr. Hatch says.
"He wants credit from the liberal press that says he's willing to attack the military."

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