Conservatives Ready To Battle McCain on Convention Platform

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and wife Cindy are greeted by Larry Abrams as they walk into worship service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain and wife Cindy are greeted by Larry Abrams as they walk into worship service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 7, 2008

Conservative activists are preparing to do battle with allies of Sen. John McCain in advance of September's Republican National Convention, hoping to prevent his views on global warming, immigration, stem cell research and campaign finance from becoming enshrined in the party's official declaration of principles.

McCain has not yet signaled the changes he plans to make in the GOP platform, but many conservatives say they fear wholesale revisions could emerge as candidate McCain seeks to put his stamp on a document that currently reflects the policies and principles of President Bush.

"There is just no way that you can avoid anticipating what is going to come. Everyone is aware that McCain is different on these issues," said Jessica Echard, executive director of the conservative Eagle Forum. "We're all kind of waiting with anticipation because we just don't know how he's going to thread this needle."

McCain has spent the past year and a half trying to straddle the philosophical schism in the modern Republican Party. In primaries, he stressed his conservative credentials, but since clinching the nomination he has often reminded voters of his more moderate stances while professing his fealty to conservative positions.

A platform fight at the convention could disrupt that carefully choreographed effort by highlighting the stark differences in vision for the party separating McCain from some of the GOP's most dedicated activists.

The battle may not be avoidable. The current GOP platform is a 100-page document, and all but nine pages mention Bush's name. Virtually the entire platform will have to be rewritten to lessen the imprint of the president, who has the highest disapproval rating of any White House occupant since Richard M. Nixon.

It is the prospect of a total rewrite that worries some.

McCain is "really out of step with the strong majority of his party," said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposes McCain's positions on climate change. "He might get what he wants. And he might get a change. But I don't think it's going to sit well with a lot of Republicans."

Officials in the Republican National Committee and in McCain's campaign say they have much in common with conservatives. They say their conversations as they approach the convention suggest there will not be a nasty platform fight.

"We are confident that this process will produce a platform that all Republicans will enthusiastically support," said Joe Pounder, a spokesman for McCain. "Our party is united, and will continue to work together to elect John McCain in November."

Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and a former Ohio secretary of state, said he does not expect a "bloodletting" in the platform committee. He predicts that conservatives and McCain will be reasonable and stay focused on a November victory: "I don't think you are going to see any radical departures or inflammatory demands for change in one direction or another."

Those assurances are not enough for activists such as Echard, who have been on the front lines of GOP platform fights for years. She will be traveling to Minneapolis-St. Paul, site of the Sept. 1-4 convention, for two weeks in August, with the primary goal of making sure the 2008 platform reflects conservative principles.

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