- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

RICHMOND — Sen. John McCain will not accept public campaign financing for the primary election — freeing him from spending limits through September and giving him a chance to compete with his Democratic opponent.

The Arizona senator, who’s on pace to effectively lock down the Republican nomination in today”s Potomac primaries, also picked up some high-profile endorsements yesterday.

Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic contenders, already have opted out of the public financing system, and Mr. McCain would have been at a severe disadvantage if he had been bound by the roughly $50 million overall spending cap and the state-by-state limits.

The state limits would have crippled him in battleground states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, where the primaries have already put him well on the way to the limits.

Mr. McCain has sent letters to the Federal Election Commission and the Treasury Department notifying them of his decision to withdraw from the presidential-election financing system. He had applied for funds in the summer when his nomination bid was foundering but has never tapped them.

Asked after a campaign event at an aviation museum in Richmond why he had decided to not to take public money, he said with a broad smile: “Because we didn’t need to. That was my thinking, because we didn’t need to.”

The McCain campaign says it collected $12 million last month but has not released new fundraising totals from the days after he won big on Super Tuesday.

Coming off weekend losses in Louisiana and Kansas, both won by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mr. McCain dismissed the outcomes and prepared for today”s contests in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

“We’re doing fine. We’re doing fine,” he told reporters in Annapolis.

Mr. Huckabee needs to win 93 percent of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination, but 116 will be doled out today, and if Mr. McCain wins most of them — as expected — Mr. Huckabee is too far back to seriously contend.

“We have close to 800 delegates. Last time I checked, Governor Huckabee had very few, so I think I’m happy with the situation I’m in,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. McCain was poised to cruise to victory in Virginia and Maryland. The latest USASurvey poll put the senator up by 11 percentage points in Virginia; a survey by the same pollsters showed him with a 26-point lead in Maryland.

The senator, who has drawn the ire of conservative talk-show hosts as he has moved toward the nomination, yesterday picked up the endorsement of Virginia evangelical leader Gary Bauer. Mr. Bauer made the endorsement as Mr. McCain is reaching out to conservative critics in an effort to unite the party.

“It’s no secret that on a number of occasions I have disagreed with the senator — on the immigration bill and on the vote against the Bush tax cuts, to name two — but the odds are overwhelming that he’s going to be the Republican nominee,” said Mr. Bauer, the former head of the Family Research Council and founder of the Campaign for Working Families, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

Mr. McCain yesterday also picked up the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who had once endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group that helps shape conservative policy for the House.

The senator said the congressman’s support “will be critical as we continue to unite our party for victory in November, and I am proud to have him on our team.”

President Bush’s brother called Mr. McCain a “devoted conservative leader.”

In Annapolis, Mr. McCain laughed when asked why people persist in voting for Mr. Huckabee even though he has nearly locked up the nomination.

“Because they like him,” Mr. McCain said with a smile. “I never expected a unanimous vote, although I would certainly like to have that. But I think we’ll continue to win primaries across the country, including [today].”

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