A McCain-Thompson Alliance?
By Perry Bacon Jr. and Paul Kane
Could Fred Thompson be Mike Huckabee's Kryptonite and allow his old friend John McCain to emerge as Superman in the GOP nomination process? Ed Rollins, Huckabee's campaign chairman, said in an interview yesterday it was his "sense" Thompson was continuing his campaign into South Carolina to pull votes of social conservatives from Huckabee and help McCain win in South Carolina.
"If he loses this week, he will quickly endorse McCain," Rollins said.
Jill Hazelbaker, a McCain spokeswoman, called the notion that McCain and Thompson have some kind of secret alliance "nonsense." Thompson campaign manager Bill Lacy, who worked with Rollins in the 1980s when both were aides to Ronald Reagan, said "Ed taught me a lot but maybe I can teach him something here: Fred is in this to win. And Ed's comments make me think he realizes that."
Thompson was a prominent McCain supporter in 2000, and it's likely he would back the Arizona senator if he dropped out of the race. But Rollins and Huckabee have repeatedly slammed Thompson since a debate in South Carolina, when the former senator tore into Huckabee, accusing him of "liberal" policies on foreign affairs and economics. In turn, Rollins called Thompson "a successful lobbyist and so-so actor" who was "never a Reaganite," noting Thompson had backed Reagan's GOP opponents in primaries in 1976 and 1980.
While Republicans voters are going to the polls today in Michigan, the candidates already are looking forward to the South Carolina primary. Huckabee and McCain will watch the Michigan returns from the Palmetto State, where both have campaign events tomorrow, and Thompson essentially skipped the Michigan and New Hampshire primaries to campaign here. Thompson is touting his antiabortion credentials in a new ad he started running in South Carolina where he says "Friends, we're in a fight for our conservative values. I'm a conservative. Always have been. Always will be."
Thompson is unlikely to win in South Carolina, and it's unclear if he pulls most of his support from backers of Huckabee, McCain or the other GOP contenders. But he's aggressively courting the social conservative vote that is Huckabee's base, saying, in the ad, "I'm 100 percent pro-life, that's why South Carolina Citizens for Life endorsed me." Of course, he also notes "I'll fight against amnesty and benefits for illegals" a sentence before -- and amnesty is the word used by the other GOP candidates to describe a proposal by McCain that would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Huckabee's campaign is not the first to question Thompson's motives for staying in the race. On the eve of McCain's New Hampshire victory, Sen. Jim DeMint (R), Romney's most prominent South Carolina supporter, suggested that Thompson might be staying in, at least through the South Carolina vote, to split the conservative votes and boost McCain.
"If Thompson wasn't in there, I think most of those votes would go to Romney," DeMint said in an interview with The Washington Post.
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