- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eight years after he opened his first presidential bid, Sen. John McCain yesterday became a full-fledged candidate once again, portraying himself as the senior statesman the country needs to lead it through broken politics and a difficult war.

“I’m not the youngest candidate. But I am the most experienced,” he said. “I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don’t. I know how to fight and how to make peace. I know who I am and what I want to do.”

Mr. McCain was in Portsmouth, N.H., the state that gave him a primary victory in 2000 in the nomination race he eventually lost to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, trying to recapture some of the magic from that year’s Straight Talk Express campaign. But his official announcement comes even as he is suffering from overexposure and years under scrutiny as an unannounced candidate.

The Arizona Republican acknowledged the campaign’s tedium, saying it has begun “earlier than many Americans prefer,” and warned that the early start will only highlight the political differences that were apparent in the contentious 2006 election.

But Mr. McCain said he would try to bridge the divide.

“I expect us to argue over principle, but when a compromise consistent with our principles is within reach, I expect us to seize it,” he said. “Americans expect us to disagree, but not just to win the next election.”

For now, polls show Mr. McCain attracting support from about one in five likely primary voters, placing him second behind former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, with about one in three voters. But the campaign is fought state by state, and the polls show Mr. McCain holding narrow leads in the early primary states of South Carolina and New Hampshire.

In the past eight years, Mr. McCain has found himself at the top of his legislative game, taking the lead on many of the top issues to come before the Senate.

But along the way he has often irked the very-conservatives he now courts and has lost the support of independents who had seen him as a different voice.

In 2002, he won passage of a sweeping campaign-finance-reform bill, even though most Republicans voted against it and many conservatives argue that it was unconstitutional. The issue continues to simmer, with yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing a challenge to the law.

He has also been the chief backer of failed proposals to try to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, and in the past two years, Mr. McCain stood up to the White House and forced through a compromise on treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism. Mr. McCain also opposed President Bush’s tax cuts, though he has since voted to extend them.

Those votes have made enemies of some conservative groups.

“No matter how many times McCain announces his candidacy or how many speeches he gives, Senator McCain can’t paper over his anti-growth record of opposing tax cuts and supporting the death tax with campaign stunts and stump speeches,” said Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth. Mr. Toomey said Mr. McCain could make things right by renouncing his votes, signing a pledge ruling out raising taxes and proposing his own series of tax cuts.

In his announcement yesterday, Mr. McCain said the tax code should be simplified but did not offer any details.

He was far more detailed in his steadfast support for continued military action in Iraq — the issue with which he is now closely identified. Yesterday, he criticized Mr. Bush’s efforts in the war’s early going, saying that among the “many mistakes,” the country began the war without making sure “all relevant agencies of government are committed to that success.”

Yesterday’s announcement was the beginning of a cross-country tour that will take Mr. McCain to the other early primary and caucus states: South Carolina today, Iowa tomorrow and Nevada on Saturday.

There is no practical difference between an exploratory committee and a full-fledged presidential campaign — the formal step he took yesterday. Candidates can raise and spend money under the same rules for both.

Mr. McCain reported having raised $13.1 million from Jan. 1 through March 31, but had already spent $8.4 million and had another $1.8 million in debts, leaving him far behind his two other chief rivals — Mr. Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. That performance led Mr. McCain to retool his fundraising team and promise a better performance this quarter, which ends June 30.

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