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No heaven on earth

"No heaven on earth" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

Bauer points out that the next president may nominate as many as three Supreme Court justices. "If those justices are appointed by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, we will have abortion for another 35 years and we will have same-sex marriage," he says. "We will have lost the two main things on the social agenda, probably forever."

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center says the social agenda isn't the only point of leverage McCain has with evangelicals and conservatives. He points out that both groups are also concerned about national security, an area in which McCain has been a hawk.

Cromartie, who also co-chairs the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, says that unlike Democrats, McCain "isn't in denial about the nature of the threat or the state of things in the Middle East." That's a difference that evangelicals and conservatives "ignore at their own peril," he says.

If conservatives are tempted to forget those differences, McCain is determined to remind them. When the senator faced the cool crowd at CPAC this month, he revealed what may be a core strategy for reaching out to conservatives: Discuss common ground and display willingness to compromise.

On common ground, McCain touted his national security credentials, his opposition to pork-barrel spending, and his promise to appoint judges in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

On compromise, McCain told the crowd that he would extend the Bush tax cuts he voted against and he would shift his immigration policy to emphasize border security first. In a radio ad airing in California ahead of Super Tuesday, McCain told voters: "I've listened and learned. No one will be rewarded for illegal behavior."

But even if McCain has listened and learned, many conservatives think he still needs to explain his positions. Santorum says one of the most helpful things McCain could do to reach out to conservatives and evangelicals is to better articulate a conservative philosophy.

"He needs to step back and say, 'Here's my worldview,'" says Santorum. When his policy positions don't match those of traditional conservatives, he needs to "explain why this is an exception in the context of an ideology."

There are plenty of those controversial exceptions that McCain could better explain. One example: his participation in the so-called Gang of 14 that negotiated a Senate compromise on confirming judges in 2005.

McCain was one of seven Republican senators who joined seven Democrats to broker a deal aimed at facilitating Senate votes on judges. The deal prevented Democrats from invoking a filibuster to block votes, and it prevented Republicans from invoking the so-called "nuclear option" to shut down a filibuster. Critics in both parties lambasted the senators and accused them of disloyalty.

But this is one place McCain isn't backing down. In an interview with WORLD late last year, the senator said: "I am proud-I repeat, proud-of my work as part of the Gang of 14 in getting justices Roberts, Alito, and other judges to lifetime appointments who will interpret the Constitution strictly."

McCain said he believed many judges wouldn't have been confirmed without the deal. He added: "Anybody who disagrees with what we did in getting these justices confirmed-then I am not their candidate."

Now that McCain is the front-runner, some conservatives will be waiting to see whether McCain will temper his tone and flesh out his controversial positions. Independent voters who like McCain's moderate stances and have shown support for him in early primaries will be waiting to see how far right McCain is willing to go. McCain's campaign will be warily juggling both ends of the spectrum.

Conservatives are also eagerly waiting to learn another piece of McCain's strategy that may prove key to his ability to unite conservatives if he wins the nomination: his choice for a running mate. James Guth, a political scientist at Furman University, told WORLD that McCain was already picking up some evangelical support, but added: "I think a lot of it depends on how he manages the vice presidential nomination."

For McCain, picking a running mate means more juggling: A choice like Huckabee could please many evangelicals who have already supported the former governor, but it could also alienate some economic conservatives who view Huckabee as too moderate.

Guth says the ideal running mate would be both socially and economically conservative: "But I've been wracking my mind trying to figure out who that might be."

In the meantime, McCain is relying on high-profile conservatives to help make his case with the party's base. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the most conservative members of the Senate, has endorsed McCain. Coburn told WORLD he thinks McCain would bring needed fiscal restraint to the White House and fight the war on terror.

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