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The conservative revolt over McCain

In November, many GOP voters may stay home – or even vote Democratic.

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Linda Worden, a political consultant from New Hope, Pa., says "it's been tough" figuring out what to do since former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts pulled out of the Republican race.

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Ultimately, Ms. Worden expects to support the McCain ticket, but she will have a lot more enthusiasm if he picks an appealing vice presidential running mate.

The Republican hierarchy clearly worries about a McCain letdown, especially since an exciting race is drawing huge turnouts among Democrats.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich points out that on Super Tuesday, 14.6 million people

d in Democratic elections, while only 8.3 million went to the polls for the GOP.

Mr. Gingrich calls that "a warning of a catastrophic election…. And if we want to get to be competitive, we had better change and we had better change now."

Competitive, however, requires energized, excited conservatives.

What has upset conservatives about McCain? In the mid-1990s, McCain's conservative credentials were sterling. His conservative rating from National Journal peaked in 1994 at 89.2 – the eighth highest in the Senate.

Then things went downhill. In 2001 and 2003, he opposed the historic Bush tax cuts. By 2004, his conservative rating fell to 51.7, which put him 49th in the Senate.

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law also dented his reputation. It put such intrusive limits on political speech that Gingrich flatly calls the law "unconstitutional."

Perhaps McCain's most destructive clash with his party was the Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill that was ultimately blocked in the Senate.

The bill provided for a quasi-amnesty, or as supporters put it, a "path to citizenship" for the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal migrants now in the US.

Bob Shoemaker, a retired federal employee from Vienna, Va., echoed others at CPAC when he scoffed at the McCain assertion that he has learned his lesson from the public uproar over his bill.

Mr. Shoemaker explains: "McCain says he's learned the lesson: people want the border guarded. But that is not the lesson. People don't want amnesty."

He adds: "Once you give amnesty, their children, brothers, and sisters can come in under family reunification laws. So it isn't going to be 20 million. It's going to be 70 million to 100 million." Most of these migrants would be poor, uneducated, and would vote Democratic, Shoemaker says. "The Republican Party is promoting its own demise."

He says he won't vote for McCain.

Worried GOP leaders who hear these complaints are urging fellow conservatives to swallow their unhappiness and vote for McCain. In the shortterm, they may be right. But conservatives remember that out of the Goldwater defeat 44 years ago, Ronald Reagan rose to lead the most successful Republican presidency of the past half century.

John Dillin is a former managing editor and Washington correspondent for the Monitor.