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Conservatives Are Defending McCain After Newspaper Story

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By Michael D. Shear and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 23, 2008

Boston conservative radio host Jay Severin has repeatedly described Sen. John McCain as "a liberal," "a Democrat" and "no conservative." On a recent show, he said President Bush's defense of McCain's conservative credentials made him want to "barf."

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But on his blog yesterday, Severin abandoned his philosophical differences with the Arizona Republican and defended McCain against the New York Times. "When the story is the smearing, the savaging of a national hero . . . imagine what a horrible corruption of power, what arrogance, what Danger that represents."

After the Times published its article this week accusing McCain of having an improper relationship with a lobbyist, many conservatives who had described the senator as a sellout, a turncoat or worse have suddenly found a reason to defend the soon-to-be leader of the Republican Party.

"The conservatives hate the New York Times so much," said veteran Republican lobbyist Tom Korologos, who added that their new message is: "Go get 'em, John, the dirty bastards."

But the respite may be a short-lived reaction to McCain's current troubles. The Times article aside, conservatives remain suspicious of McCain's commitment to social causes, angry about his leading role in campaign finance policy revisions and unconvinced about his desire to limit illegal immigration.

The allegations in the Times article are a reminder that conservatives are barreling toward the general election fight with a candidate who has potential political vulnerabilities and who was not the first choice of many of them.

"This does help Senator McCain with conservatives, but it's not enough," said Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group. "Senator McCain, I think, needs to -- and will -- engage in an outreach effort to persuade conservatives they ought to be enthusiastic supporters."

Toomey said McCain and his advisers have been reaching out to fiscal conservatives. In the past, many in that community have doubted the senator's commitment to tax cuts, especially after he opposed the cuts pushed by Bush and championed by many in the Republican Party.

Toomey said it is "too early to judge" whether McCain's efforts are working, but he added, referring to the Times, "It's always good when a politician is looking for support from people with whom he has a common enemy."

Todd Harris, who worked for McCain's 2000 campaign and is now a Republican strategist, said McCain's battle with the newspaper "does not make his issues with certain conservatives go away altogether." But he said many members of that community are "now looking for things to love about him."

Evidence of that may be in McCain's fundraising, which has picked up dramatically since the Times published the article. The Washington Post also reported on concerns among some McCain aides about his connections to the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.

Sources inside the McCain campaign and at the Republican National Committee said they saw a substantial return on new e-mail solicitations, though neither would say how much has been raised.

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