- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Moderate Republican leaders are flocking to Sen. John McCain’s campaign because they are convinced he will steer the party away from President Bush, even as Mr. McCain worked yesterday to pick up conservative leaders’ support as well.

His campaign said he notched endorsements from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both of Georgia’s U.S. senators and Kirby Wilbur, a top-10 conservative radio talk-show host and an American Conservative Union board member. And senior McCain adviser Charlie Black said he thinks some of Mr. McCain’s prominent talk-radio antagonists, who reach millions of Republican voters, are coming around.

“Rush Limbaugh seemed to back off his criticism of John a bit today — at least he didn’t spend his whole show bashing McCain,” Mr. Black said.

That means Mr. McCain made headway on both ends of the Republican political spectrum heading into next week’s primaries in more than 20 states.

At a press conference in Los Angeles, Mr. McCain collected the backing of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the day after he won an endorsement from former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. He also collected the support of former U.N. Ambassador John Danforth and former Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut, both centrist Republicans.

“You will see a flood of endorsements across this country from both liberal and conservative,” Mr. McCain said.

Moderate Republicans said they expect Mr. McCain will dramatically shift the party away from Mr. Bush’s brand of conservatism and toward their direction.

“I think he’d be very good for moderate Republicans and, frankly, for the whole Republican Party because it would change our paradigm — sure he’s got conservative credentials, but he’s also willing to work across the aisle,” said former Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which advocates for moderate Republican elected officials and which includes Mr. McCain among its members.

“If McCain is the nominee, and obviously if he’s elected president, the Republican Party will be on the way back, quickly, and we will soon wonder what the big problem was between 2006 and 2008. If there are problems with the McCain administration, it won’t be because he didn’t broaden the party,” Mr. Bass said.

Mr. Simmons, one of yesterday’s moderate endorsers, said as an Army Vietnam veteran himself, with 37 years either active-duty or in the reserves, he sees Mr. McCain fitting the mold of a commander in chief. But he also said there’s no doubt Mr. McCain will change the direction of the party.

“I expect that it will be more moderate than it has been in the last eight years,” he said. “The extreme right of the Republican Party has been somewhat damaged by the activities of some of their members. There is an interest among party members in candidates who are willing to address issues that aren’t traditionally considered conservative Republican issues.”

But winning moderate Republicans’ support is not Mr. McCain’s problem — holding the support of conservatives is.

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado said on the Michael Reagan radio show this week that he sooner would have the Democrats running the show from the White House next year than see Mr. McCain elected president.

“If I have to see this country go down the tubes, I’d rather see it with a Democrat in charge than a Republican,” said Mr. Tancredo, a secure-the-borders Republican who dropped out of the nomination race in December. He is backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Mr. McCain’s leading remaining rival for the nomination.

Mr. Bass, the leader of the Main Street group, said Mr. Romney used to be a member but quit just before he announced his presidential bid. Mr. Bass joked that it would be in keeping with Mr. Romney’s pattern if he were to win the nomination then rejoin the group in an effort to move back to the center for the general election.

Mr. McCain said yesterday conservatives will join with him because of his strong stand on defense.

“I am confident that the majority of conservatives’ … No. 1 priority is the threat of radical Islamic extremism. And I believe that I can get a significant and overwhelming majority of those people who are members of our party to join together with all of us in a big-tent party,” he said.

Mr. McCain already has some top-name conservatives supporting him, including tax-cutter and 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, conservative standard-bearer Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and rising conservative star Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.

Mr. Hallow reported from Washington.

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