- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

A leading Democratic senator yesterday said publicly what many Republicans are saying privately: John McCain is likely to defect from the Republican Party.
"John McCain has a tremendous streak of independence," said New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer. "And if the Republican Party doesnt tolerate that independence, my belief is, sooner or later, hell either become independent or Democrat."
Some Republicans and Democrats believe Mr. McCain is preparing a presidential run, to be announced late next year, as a Democrat or, more likely, as an independent.
"Everything depends on whether the Bush presidency succeeds or not," Weekly Standard publisher and McCain supporter William Kristol told The Washington Times yesterday.
"If Bush is successful, theres no room for an independent candidacy," said Mr. Kristol, who also said he is not counseling Mr. McCain to quit the Republican Party or run for president as an independent.
Mr. Kristol also offered this proviso: "If Bush were to fail somehow or other, and if the Democratic Party looked like the liberal party it was in the 1980s, its possible there could be room for something else."
"It is probable that if McCain decided to run as an independent, he could keep Bush from a second term, but I dont think John could get [to the presidency] by himself, and its not his style," said McCain friend Michael T. Hellon, a Republican National Committee member from Arizona.
Republicans have steadily lost seats in both houses of Congress since taking over in the 1994 elections. Some conservatives say the party has failed to stay true to its principles, while others, like Mr. Kristol, say the party needs to change in the direction Mr. McCain is trying to lead it.
"I dont know whether Bush is going to succeed or not, but there is a sense that both conservatism and liberalism, as they have existed for the last 30 years or so, are a little bit exhausted," Mr. Kristol said.
Democrats, who had nothing but good things to say about Mr. McCain when he challenged President Bush for the Republican nomination last year, continued to lay out the welcome mat yesterday.
On NBCs "Meet the Press," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, first said that he didnt think Mr. McCain would run for president as a Democrat but then added that if the Arizona senator became a Democrat, "I wouldnt be surprised if that were to occur."
Mr. McCain played host at his Arizona ranch to incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle over the weekend, but both men insisted it was purely "social." Mr. McCain told reporters he has "no intention" of bolting the party or running for president.
North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards, asked on CNNs "Evans, Novak, Hunt And Shields" to confirm reports that he has been urging Mr. McCain to leave the Republican Party, replied: "I dont talk about private conversation I have with other senators." Pressed on whether Mr. McCain would bolt, Mr. Edwards said, "I dont have any expectation about that one way or the other. I mean, John McCain can speak for himself."
Mr. Hellon told The Washington Times that it "probably makes no sense for McCain to go Democrat because he would not be defined by the core liberal Democratic philosophy any more than he would by the hard-core conservative philosophy of our party."
Other Republican senators, party officials and White House aides privately note, however, that Mr. McCains denials have not been any more equivocal than Pat Buchanans were before he left to make a third-party presidential run last year or than Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords were before he bolted last month.
They also note that, like Mr. Jeffords, Mr. McCain opposes the Republican leadership on everything from President Bushs tax cut to campaign finance regulation, health care and gun control.
Top Republican officials confessed privately to some concern that Mr. McCains demonstrated appeal as Vietnam War hero and experienced lawmaker might make him a formidable independent presidential candidate.
Nevertheless, some Republicans are saying that, because attacks from a high-profile Republican are so damaging to the party, the sooner Mr. McCain leaves, the better.
"If hes going to threaten us this way, we dont need him," former Reagan White House official Mary Ann Meloy said Friday of Mr. McCain.
Mr. Schumer, one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate, more or less admitted that Senate Democrats have been courting Mr. McCain just as they courted Mr. Jeffords, who became an independent last week and announced he would vote with the Democrats.
"Of course [Democrats] have been talking with Sen. McCain," Mr. Schumer said on ABCs "This Week," but, he claimed, the topic was legislation. Democrats said the same thing about talks with Mr. Jeffords, right up until he announced his departure from Republican ranks.
While press reports generally have claimed that it is not Mr. McCain, but his staff and advisers who are urging him to leave the party, some of his most trusted counselors deny the claim.
"Youre going to find this hard to believe, but Ive never discussed this with Sen. McCain, nor have I ruminated about it," former McCain presidential campaign strategist John Weaver said yesterday. "Our conversations have been confined to passage of the McCain campaign finance [regulations] and increasing spending on military defense."
Mr. Kristol confirmed that he did have a "casual" luncheon on Thursday at Bacchus restaurant near DuPont Circle with Mr. Weaver, McCain loyalist Marshall Whittmann of the Hudson Institute and McCain legislative director Daniel McKivergan, who once worked for Mr. Kristol. But yesterday Mr. Kristol said the discussion did not turn on a possible defection or a presidential bid.
"Truth is, Ive never discussed it with McCain," Mr. Kristol said. "He never discussed with me, never told me anything about leaving or running in 2004."
In public, Republicans are expressing the same confidence in Mr. McCains loyalty as they did in Mr. Jeffords, before he split.
On ABCs "This Week," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said he is convinced that Mr. McCain will "remain" a Republican.

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