- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Republican dissident Sen. John McCain could switch to independent and win the presidency or a fourth Senate term in 2004, the Republican who presides over the state Senate in Arizona said yesterday.
"He can win either the presidency or Senate re-election as an independent," state Sen. Randall Gnant told The Washington Times in an interview in which he called the Republican Party leadership "bullies" and adherents to a "far right" agenda.
"McCain has realized, I think, that the vast majority of Republicans do not feel the partys ultraconservative leadership is philosophically in touch with them," Mr. Gnant said. "We have prided ourselves over the years of being the party of the big tent but have allowed ideological bullies to stand in the doorway of the big tent."
Asked if he included President Bush among the "ideological bullies," Mr. Gnant said, "Im referring to anybody who fits that category."
Are Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and the other Republican congressional leaders among those "bullies"?
"Im not going to mention the names of the leaders of my party," Mr. Gnant said.
Although top Democrats have been privately urging Mr. McCain to switch parties, Mr. Gnant said, "McCain is intensely popular in Arizona, but my guess is he would do better as an independent than as a Democrat."
Others in Arizona arent so sure about the political future of Mr. McCain.
"It would be very difficult for anyone to make that kind of change of party," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican. "Obviously, John is a very popular figure nationally and here in Arizona. He is a friend of mine, but Id be less than candid if I said I agreed with him on his support of campaign finance [regulations] and his opposition to the [Bush] tax cuts," Mr. Hayworth said.
He noted that Mr. McCain has recently sided with the Democrats on issues, voting against the Bush tax cuts as favoring the "rich" and calling for stricter federal gun-control laws.
"It is very difficult to depend on your constituency when you make profound changes in your public policy positions," Mr. Hayworth said. "That for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction applies to politics as well."
State election law in Arizona would permit Mr. McCain to run for president in 2004 while simultaneously seeking re-election to the Senate.
State Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, said she agrees with Mr. Gnant that Mr. McCain could win re-election to the Senate as an independent, but the presidency is another matter.
"McCain is very well-loved" in Arizona, she said. "During the Republican primary last year, we saw many Democrats change registration so they could vote for him. I heard many Democrats and independents as well say he was the best candidate."
"Whether or not he could carry the rest of the country is doubtful," she said.
"The people who come out for the Democratic primaries tend to be hard-core Democrats, and I dont believe they would support him just because he switched his party affiliation," Miss Giffords said, adding that she doesnt think he would necessarily stand a better chance as an independent either. "Arizona still tends to be a strongly Republican state."
She said Republicans in her state "are extremely upset with [Vermont Sen. James M.] Jeffords for switching to independent, and so I believe McCain needs to figure out what his base is. I think its Republican and a healthy slice of the independents and also of Democrats. But he needs to solidify his base and it seems to be that his base is not going to be among the Democrats."
Mr. Gnant said, "Some of the conservative members of our party would take [Mr. McCain] to task for not slavishly adhering to the far right agenda, and some who question if I am a Republican, but Arizona is enjoying a wave of populism that is highly approbative of the independence he shows."
"Sooner or later, the Republican Party is going to understand that many of the people who have tuned out or registered independent would like to be Republicans because on most issues they can feel comfortable but are being scared away or [ticked] off by the far right," he said.
Mr. Gnant defines "ideological bullies" as those who "push the pure, far-right moral agenda on abortion, archaic laws against sodomy and homosexuality — any of the religious right issues."


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