- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006


Sen. John McCain, considered the front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, intends to launch an exploratory committee next week, party officials said yesterday.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting a public statement from the four-term Arizona senator.

Mr. McCain, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination in 2000, already has opened a bank account for the committee, one official said.

“The senator has made no decision about running for president,” said Eileen McMenamin, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain.

Aides to Mr. McCain say the senator will discuss whether to seek the presidency with his family over the Christmas holiday, and make a final decision thereafter.

Establishing an exploratory committee allows a potential candidate to raise money for a White House run.

Mr. McCain is a former Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was elected to the Senate in 1986, and served in the House for four years before that.

Since losing the Republican Party primary to Mr. Bush in 2000, the senator has alternately challenged and embraced the president, building an independent reputation.

After Republicans lost control of both the House and Senate on Tuesday, Mr. McCain called for a return to the conservative principles he said make up the foundations of the Republican Party.

“We came to Washington to change government and government changed us,” he said. “We departed rather tragically from our conservative principles.”

Mr. McCain urged the party to return to a time when it was known for careful stewardship of tax dollars, less government, less regulation, lower taxes, a strong defense, as well as community and family values.

The Republicans’ loss of power in the Senate was a double blow to Mr. McCain, who had been in line to become chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee in January. The panel’s top post overseeing the military would have given him a high-profile platform during wartime and in the year leading up to the 2008 elections.

The senator has spent the past year padding his Straight Talk America political action committee with supporters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and he has broadened his inner circle of advisers to include several strategists with ties to Mr. Bush.

During the 2006 election cycle, Mr. McCain worked to spread good will throughout the party, attending 346 events and raising more than $10.5 million on behalf of Republican candidates across the country. He also donated nearly $1.5 million to federal, state and county parties.

A full 15 months before the first primary contest in Iowa, Mr. McCain is considered the one to beat in a crowded field of potential Republican candidates. They include Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

An Associated Press-AOL News poll conducted late last month found Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. McCain were essentially tied for support. Miss Rice has insisted that she will not run.

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