Mainstream catching up with maverick Sen. McCain

Published 9:09 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2006

By Staff
The Republican mainstream has moved to where GOP maverick Sen. John McCain finds himself squarely in it.
Republicans spent gobs of money keeping him away from the White House six years ago, but that would be forgotten in a flash if the establishment sniffed 2008 victory with the Arizona senator atop their ticket.
Contrary to Democrats, Republicans favor presidential frontrunners anointed early.
It happened in the late 1990s to a Texas governor who was a formidable foe by the time the 2000 race launched.
Two years before presidential primaries resume, it's ironic the attention McCain is garnering, not only for the bitter battle he gave President George W. Bush in 2000, but also because his name is synonymous with reducing the importance of campaign cash in politics, the McCain-Feingold law.
Yet reports filed recently with the Federal Election Commission reveal that McCain's Straight Talk America political-action committee generated more of a war chest in the latter half of 2005 than any other potential GOP presidential rival.
McCain might find the primary season tougher than a general election because his mischief-making alienates many in his own party, but his crossover value would be important later - especially if the Democratic nod goes to a polarizing candidate, say Hillary Clinton.
A few other pluses for McCain would be his unfaltering support for the Iraq war and the enthusiasm with which he campaigned for Bush's re-election in 2004.
McCain's reformer credentials might look especially appealing to Republicans dogged by ethics scandals.
McCain's efforts to curb the out-of-control practice of slipping lobbyist-sponsored earmarks into spending bills puts him in sync with moderate members of his party alarmed by how deficits have exploded under Bush and the Republican Congress.
Finally, McCain's very public feud with Democratic rising star Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois didn't hurt him any with the Republican rank-and-file, either.