- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Conservative talk radio is ganging up on presidential candidate John McCain, attacking him for joining Democrats to push liberal legislation and opposing bedrock Republican positions from tax cuts to immigration.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be the favorite of conservative talk-radio stars and stands to benefit from their distaste for the Arizona senator, who is running neck and neck with Mr. Romney in the race for the presidential nomination.

While most polls show the two men in a dead heat in key primary and caucus contests across the nation, the campaign battle on talk radio has turned into a lopsided offensive against Mr. McCain, whose positions on illegal aliens, President Bush’s tax cuts, oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and campaign-finance regulation have infuriated conservative commentators.

“I don’t think talk radio has changed their core views. Look at Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Mark Levin and myself, all center-right conservatives generally supportive of the Republicans,” talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt told The Washington Times.

“I think if you were to poll that universe of talkers, you would find they would be anti-McCain-Feingold [on campaign finance]; anti-McCain-Kennedy [on immigration], except for Medved; pro-oil exploration in ANWR; and supporters of the Bush tax cuts,” Mr. Hewitt said as he ticked off bills the Arizona senator has championed or opposed in the Senate.

“So the hostility toward the McCain legislative record shouldn’t surprise anyone,” the founder of the conservative Townhall Web site said.

Mr. Hewitt also told the Associated Press yesterday that “Senator McCain is a great American, a lousy senator and a terrible Republican. He has a legislative record that is not conservative. In fact, it is anti-conservative.” He said he would support Mr. Romney “if I was voting today.”

For weeks, Mr. Limbaugh, the king of talk radio, also has pounded Mr. McCain as a Republican who deserted his party’s positions on core issues — from his earlier opposition to the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 to his support with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, for an immigration bill that would have given illegal aliens a path to citizenship.

This week, Mr. Limbaugh went after the senator for his alliance with environmentalists and his opposition to President Bush’s push to open ANWR’s vast oil reserves to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

“McCain has been an active promoter of the global-warming hysteria — for which he has been lauded by radical environmentalists — and he is a co-sponsor of a leftist scheme for energy rationing,” the famed talkmeister told his more than 20 million listeners last week.

“If anybody has any doubts whatsoever, my differences with Senator McCain are substantive,” he said. “When you boil this down, this really is between McCain and Romney right now.”

Not all of the leading conservative talk-radio hosts oppose Mr. McCain, though even some of his supporters admit his anti-conservative positions often have pushed them to the edge of endurance.

“I’ve been getting a lot heat from listeners for defending McCain, even though I acknowledge the many disagreements I’ve had with him. I’ve been getting a constant barrage from my audience. It’s getting really heated,” Bill Bennett said yesterday.

“I admire the heck out of John McCain and disagree with him on at least half a dozen serious matters,” Mr. Bennett said. “He is a war hero, he has been consistently pro-life, he put his campaign in hostage to the success of the surge in Iraq, he’s been a consistent hawk on pork-barrel spending, and can win in November.”

But the former drug czar and education secretary said the intensity of the anti-McCain calls to his radio program show he does not have the support of his party’s conservative base.

“What rankles me the most is his tendency to criticize our side first. Why bash us, why not bash Hillary Clinton? He’s got to have some of the fire that Democrats have for Republicans, but we don’t see it,” he said. “If he is the nominee, he’s got to fix things with the base of the party, because you can’t have a convention with these kinds of feelings.”

Does he have a breaking point over the senator’s candidacy? “Ask me tomorrow,” he replied.

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