In the past John McCain has often been at war with members of his own party, including President Bush. But lately, he's been more supportive of his party and one of President Bush's most stalwart defenders of the war in Iraq. And now, he's crisscrossing the country planting seeds of support for himself and other Republicans running for office. His latest stop was in Cleveland. There he reiterated his endorsement of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in his race to the Republican nomination for Ohio governor. ideastream's Lisa Ann Pinkerton filed this report.
Picture this: Ohio's darling of the Evangelical Republican Right, being embraced by the independent maverick Republican John McCain. It may seem like an unlikely alliance, but actually the two men say they've been friends for years - even though they've often been at opposite ends of their party. So there was McCain last night at the Union Club, the featured attraction for a Blackwell Campaign fundraiser. The Blackwell campaign hoped to have raised $200,000 with the event. Blackwell and McCain shrugged off any suggestion that they were an odd couple.
Ken Blackwell: This is a big tent Republican Party - Senator McCain doesn't have to be my twin to be my brother.
John McCain: Just to be brief, I think people respect Ken Blackwell and me both because we do take positions that we believe in and are not necessary party orthodoxy.
Political Analyst John Green thinks there's more here then meets the eye. He says it's pretty clear McCain's running for president, and before he can use his maverick appeal to gain moderate votes, Green says McCain needs to get past a primary election where the most conservative of Republicans vote.
John Green: Ken Blackwell is very well-identified with the conservative wing and so by coming to his fundraiser and endorsing this candidacy John McCain makes it possible to mend fences with conservatives.
Last week McCain was in Virginia warming up to Jerry Falwell, who McCain once called an "agent of intolerance." But McCain says this courting of conservatives isn't out-of-sync with his record.
John McCain: I really don't read that much into it, and I also understand that's kind of the story line now a days about my activities. By the way, my latest position in immigration reform is not exactly the conservative right-wing position; my position on climate change, which hasn't changed, isn't, my position on torture isn't, so I haven't undergone some metamorphosis in recent days.
McCain says he and Blackwell share a number of values - like fiscal restraint - and have similar constituencies. And the chance to meet three levels of Blackwell donors in one night is certainly appealing for a man who is likely running for President again. For $500, the fundraiser offered donors a general reception with McCain and Blackwell. For $2,500 a more intimate reception was available. And for a select few a very private reception awaited for an undisclosed sum. By Ohio law, that price tag could not exceed $10,000 per donation.
McCain said he's less concerned with fund raising at the moment. What's really on his mind is the falling popularity of President Bush, and how that might harm the Republican Party's chances in November.
John McCain: I am worried about this election, I really am, and we Republicans should be.
Do you think most Republicans would say that?
John McCain: I don't know, but if they read the same polls I do they may. But look, six months is a lifetime in politics - we can get back on track, but we have some work to do.
In Ohio, those polls show Blackwell behind Democrat Ted Strickland by 12 points in the race for Governor. But in the May 2nd Primary, Blackwell's Spokesman Carlo LoParo says, they have a comfortable lead in front of candidate Jim Petro.
Carlo LoParo: But we look at the polls and they make us feel pretty good about ourselves and the message we gave, but then we put down the poll and get to work. We're going to spend all the resources we have communicating Ken Blackwell's message of economic growth and job creation.
LoParo says Blackwell plans to spend all the money he has available to beat Petro. As of January, that was just under $1.5 million, which could mean a lot of TV ads for the Cleveland area, Ohio's most populated region.
LoParo says Blackwell's message is that he will shake things up, if elected.
Carlo LoParo: He has innovative ideas to get Ohio back on track. And to do that we have to challenge the status quo, and Secretary Blackwell has been challenging the status quo for the bulk of his political career.
An endorsement from a respected moderate like McCain, LoParo says, could make Blackwell more palatable to the center. But Political Analyst John Green thinks McCain might risk diluting his own moderate appeal by stumping for Conservative Republicans.
John Green: In the vernacular, we often talk about moving back to the center. Most Ohioans - like most Americans - are very moderate. There are many independent swing voters, who are not concerned with ideology and are often turned off by it. So candidates often have this problem.
McCain's campaigning for candidates like Blackwell appears to be a risk for him. But for Blackwell, there's no obvious downside. McCain says in the coming weeks, he'll continue to campaign for republicans of all stripes. Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.