What will John McCain say at CPAC tomorrow?
The next big hurdle for John McCain isn’t the Feb. 12 primaries. It’s his appearance tomorrow before the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, whose verdict on the Arizona senator could make or break his presidential aspirations.-- PoliPundit
The 6,000 Republican Party members expected to attend “are the ground troops that make up the conservative base,” says David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors the yearly meeting. “And he’s pretty much blown his credibility with these people.”
CPAC has been an important stop on conservatives’ calendars since Ronald Reagan showed up in 1973 for the first of 17 appearances. The three-day conference in Washington now draws thousands of people, more than half of them under age 26, who come to listen to the movement’s stars and assess its presidential candidates.
Last year, Sen. McCain was the only declared candidate to turn down an invitation to speak to the group, which returned the snub by consigning him to fifth place in a presidential straw poll, well behind first-place finisher Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Sen. McCain’s rival for the Republican nomination.
Sen. McCain this year answered his CPAC invitation only after winning the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8 and settled on a time only after his South Carolina win on Jan. 26. He will follow both Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Romney, plus a panel that ponders the question, “Is the GOP Still Lost?”
Sen. McCain has long been famously at odds with his party’s right wing, which raises the stakes for his CPAC appearance. Some conservative commentators including Rush Limbaugh and national Evangelical Christian leaders have said they won’t endorse Mr. McCain. In a transcript of a radio interview provided by the Romney campaign yesterday, James Dobson of Focus on the Family said Sen. McCain “is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are.”
A boffo performance could energize CPAC’s activists, who pay to attend the conference and in return are invited to workshops on such topics as fund-raising appearances and career planning.
“If 6,000 people walk out of that room excited, that’s important; you can’t buy that,” says Grover Norquist, a regular CPAC panelist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative advocacy group.
But a speech by Sen. McCain that fails to convince the audience that he will champion a conservative agenda if chosen the party’s nominee could feed calls by some commentators to stay home on Election Day.