- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sen. John McCain is not wanting for advice from conservative Republicans about how to win the presidency in November.

They say the likely Republican presidential nominee could burnish his credentials with his party’s right wing by pushing to make Mr. Bush’s tax cuts permanent, pursuing tougher legislation to reduce or eliminate political pork and by speaking about his faith.

“[H]e’s not the kind of candidate who will pass litmus tests on every issue. He can’t and shouldn’t start down the road of trying to do that,” said Hoover Institution public-policy scholar David Davenport. “He needs to emphasize the full range of issues on which he is a conservative, from the war in Iraq to abortion.

“He may never convince evangelicals that he is one of them, but he could do a better job of sharing some of the faith-based aspects of his own life so that they might better identify with him,” said Mr. Davenport, referring to the role his beliefs played when he was a prisoner of war and with his family.

GOP pollster John McLaughlin said there are two trends among Republican primary voters that show rank-and-file Republicans, not just conservative leaders, have their doubts about the Arizona senator.

“First, Mike Huckabee is still losing, but his plurality is growing,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “Second, there are Republicans and anti-Clinton independents crossing over to vote in the open Democrat primaries to inflate Obama. They are getting more pleasure out of voting against Clinton than they are by voting for McCain. Ultimately, to unite the GOP base, McCain needs to draw a bright contrast that pushes Obama left. That’s why Obama is attacking McCain and McCain is returning fire.”

But Mr. McLaughlin said there is plenty of time to repair recent stances that hurt Mr. McCain among conservatives, such as his fight over immigration and his votes against the Bush tax cuts. He already has changed his stance by pledging to extend most of the tax cuts.

Exit polls from the primaries indicate moderates are attracted to Mr. McCain but he’s still not the favorite of self-proclaimed conservatives. In Virginia’s primary last week, Mr. McCain won only one about a third of the self-identified conservatives that comprised two-thirds of that state’s Republican primary voters.

“The principal anger with McCain is located among a tiny handful of professional chatterers,” said Hoover Institution scholar and former presidential speech writer Peter Robinson.

“When everyday voters look at the man, what they see is a hero who thinks the government spends way too much, who believes in defending innocent life, including the unborn, and who wants the American cause in the world to prosper,” said Mr. Robinson. “ ’Heck,’ they say to themselves, ‘he looks pretty darned conservative to me.’ ”

But not to talk-show hosts on the right who show withering disdain for the man they call the Democrats’ favorite Republican.

“It will be tough for McCain to bring conservative voters out to work for him in the fall election, but he has to do it,” said Club for Growth President Patrick J. Toomey. “If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, she’ll help do it for him. If Barack Obama wins, McCain has to underscore the ideological contrast. There’s plenty there—the recent vote on government-authorized wiretaps is a good example.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover G. Norquist said Mr. McCain should quickly mollify his conservative doubters by revealing the names of his intended running mate and key cabinet secretaries.

Mr. Norquist said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford or Texas Gov. Rick Perry all would make excellent running mates with strong appeal to McCain skeptics.

“And announcing [former Texas Sen.] Phil Gramm would be your treasury secretary would be a home run, just as Bush signaled he would make Colin Powell his secretary of state gave him gravitas on foreign policy,” Mr. Norquist said.

But others suggest doing that would amount to a fatal distraction — a sign Mr. McCain sees himself in a weak position.

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