Republican National Convention
Wednesday, August 02, 2000

Once the enemy, McCain now welcome as an ally


He could draw independents, Democrats to GOP

By Howard Wilkinson and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Five months ago, John McCain was the worst enemy of the Republican establishment in states like Ohio and Kentucky, but he could end up being its best friend.

[photo] JOHN MCCAIN ADDRESSES THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION TUESDAY NIGHT.
(Associated Press photo)
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        “John McCain could be the bridge,” said H.C. Buck Niehoff, finance chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. “The bridge we need to reach independent voters, Democrats. He could hold the key.”

        On Tuesday night, Mr. McCain addressed a Republican National Convention that he had once hoped would make him the nominee for president.

        He combined the themes of his failed campaign for the presidency with thoughts on patriotism and America's role in the world.

        “Cynicism is suffocating the idealism of many Americans, especially among our young,” he said in prepared remarks. “And with cause, for they have lost pride in their government. Too often those who hold a public trust have failed to set the necessary example.”

        But he spoke mostly of those who had given their lives for their country.

        “They built an even greater nation than the one they had left their homes to defend; an America that offered more opportunities to more of its people than ever before; an America that began to redress injustices that had been visited on too many of her citizens for too long,” he said.

        Mr. McCain offered an unequivocal endorsement of the Texas governor.

        “He will confidently defend our interests and values wherever they are threatened. I say to all Americans, Republican, Democrat or Independent, if you believe America deserves leaders with a purpose more ennobling than expediency and opportunism, then vote for Governor Bush.”

        Mr. McCain, a former POW in North Vietnam, was on a roster of American veterans chosen to speak on the second day of the 37th GOP convention.

        Beamed into the First Union Center convention hall from the deck of the USS New Jersey in the nearby Delaware River was retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf — who prosecuted the Persian Gulf War for Mr. Bush's father, President Bush.

        Introducing Mr. McCain was a friend and fellow Vietnam War veteran, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. And Bob Dole, unsuccessful 1996 GOP nominee who lost use of his right arm in World War II, paid tribute to veterans.

        It is Mr. McCain's role after the convention that now becomes important to the election of Mr. Bush.

        Most party leaders understand that Mr. Bush cannot win the White House with Republican votes alone — he needs the support of the independents and Democrats who were caught up in the McCain groundswell early in the primary season.

        Mr. McCain's early primary victories came in states where independents and Democrats could easily switch to the GOP primary and vote for the McCain agenda of campaign finance reform.

        But Mr. McCain's momentum came to a screeching halt March 7, when Ohio and a host of other states gave impressive wins to Mr. Bush, driven partly by the state party organizations' ability to turn out the party faithful.

        By the time Kentucky's primary came along in May, the contest was long over and the only question was how much support Mr. McCain would give to the Texas governor this fall.

        Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, one of the few congressional figures who backed Mr. McCain over Mr. Bush, said Mr. McCain would be “very helpful.”

        “He's on the team,” Mr. DeWine said.

        Mr. DeWine said he also expects his own re-election campaign to benefit. On Aug. 19, Mr. McCain will be at Mr. Niehoff's Hyde Park home for a DeWine fund-raiser.

        While Ohio GOP leaders generally agree that Mr. McCain will help the Bush-Cheney team win Ohio, Kentucky GOP strategist and campaign consultant Hayes Robertson, an alternate delegate from Covington, does not think Mr. McCain's involvement in the Bush camp will pull many Northern Kentucky votes.

        “Northern Kentucky is still conservative, and the region didn't really embrace him in the primaries,” he said.

        Kentucky GOP Vice Chairman Damon Thayer of Scott County, an alternate delegate, said that in swing congressional districts around the country Mr. McCain “could be a great help” to the Bush/Cheney ticket.

        “I'd take him (campaigning) in Kentucky,” Mr. Thayer said.

        Several members of Kentucky's delegation said Mr. McCain, a decorated Vietnam soldier who spent five years as a prisoner of war, will appeal to veterans.

        In Ohio, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, a convention delegate, said most of the hard feelings between the Bush camp and McCain supporters from the primary are buried.

        “But there are still people in the party who perceive McCain as not being much of a team player,” Mr. Allen said. “He got a reputation as sort of a sore loser. But if he can help elect George W. Bush, I welcome him.”

        Gannett News Service contributed to this report.

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