A Select Few

Article excerpt

Who in Congress is backing John McCain?

Money and endorsements don't always guarantee success in politics -but they sure help. They didn't help Bob Dole win the New Hampshire primary in 1996 but they probably did determine that he would be the eventual GOP nominee. George W Bush has virtually all of the GOP establishment lined up behind him. But you can tell a lot about Arizona Senator John McCain, who has emerged as the only viable alternative to Bush, by the people who have chosen to buck the party elders and back him instead.

"I think he's the best candidate out there," says Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has known McCain for 20 years.

"He is the person to lead us into the next century. He will be a great commander in chief," says Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, who was elected to the House with McCain in 1982 and has served with him in the Senate for the past five years.

The list of McCain supporters is short. In addition to Hagel and DeWine, there are Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee; Representatives Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford of South Carolina; and from McCain's home state of Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl and Representatives Matt Salmon, John Shadegg, Jim Kolbe, and J.D. Hayworth are on the McCain team.

No governors have endorsed McCain. But a campaign aide was quick to point out that in 198o, before the New Hampshire primary, Ronald Reagan also lacked the support of any governors and had the endorsement of just three senators and six members of the House of Representatives, even fewer than McCain.

The first things most supporters mention about McCain are his military record, war hero status, and knowledge of military and foreign affairs. On defense, intelligence, and international issues, McCain "clearly stands out," according to Kyl. "The bottom line is that having worked with him over the years, my view is he is prepared to be president;" asserts Kyl. "There is no other Republican candidate that is more prepared to be president," he adds in a not so subtle jab at Bush.

Kyl is unreserved in his praise of McCain even though their views differ on campaign finance reform and a tobacco tax, issues that set McCain apart from most Republicans. As DeWine puts it: I don't think John's any less a conservative because his answer to campaign finance reform is different from mine.... I don't think that's a conservative-liberal issue."

"His high profile on one or two issues has kind of overshadowed his long history on pro-life, lower taxes, and a strong national defense," says Thompson. Like most of the Republicans who defend McCain on campaign finance reform, Thompson is a member of the historic Class Of '94. Thompson insists it is "a total red herring" to say it will hurt Republicans if soft money is eliminated. I would respectfully take issue with my conservative brethren on that.... How many times can we continue to double soft money in presidential election campaigns?"

Like Thompson, Lindsey Graham says "I couldn't disagree more" with the idea that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance proposal is anti-Republican. "It's a net positive for us." In Graham's view: "John McCain represents the Contract With America spirit of reform better than any other candidate on our side that's electable."

"There are those who say because of the tobacco tax and campaign finance reform he's not a true conservative, but I don't buy that," says Salmon, who supports McCain-Feingold but like Graham and Sanford parts company with McCain on the tobacco tax.

Supporters also like to point to McCain's fiscal frugality as a sign of his true conservatism, noting that he's always at the top of the National Taxpayers Union's list for his stands on cutting the size of government and unnecessary spending. "I've been so frustrated since I've been in Washington with Republicans promising to do things differently and not doing that," declares Salmon. "Like an errant child, the Republican Party needs to be gripped by the shoulders and shaken vigorously. …