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Thune Endorses McCain

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has signed on to back Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, providing another significant conservative endorsement for a candidate once estranged from the right wing of his party.

As Capitol Briefing's colleague, The Fix, has noted on many occasions, the Arizona Republican has actively courted conservatives ahead of the early GOP primaries. With no clear favorite emerging for evangelical voters,
McCain and ex-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) have been shadow boxing for support on the right.

One clear area of competition is the drive for support among GOP members of Congress, many of whom have connections to their own local conservative constituencies.

Which makes McCain's bagging of Thune an important "get."

Thune remains very popular among evangelical Christian conservatives because of his 2004 election victory over Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who had been despised in conservative circles as a Democratic leader who tied the Senate in knots and blocked many of Bush's judicial appointments.

Thune said he recognized that McCain has taken some positions that are not popular among conservatives. "He's tough when he's on the other side," Thune said, pointing to McCain's support of campaign finance reform in 2002 and opposition to a federal ban on gay marriage.

But Thune told Capitol Briefing he extracted a promise from the Arizonan on judicial nominations. Thune said McCain told him he would appoint "guys like Roberts and Alito". That's a reference to Chief Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, both of whom were nominated by President Bush and were popular selections among Christian conservatives.

Without attacking them by name, Thune noted that other candidates in the GOP field have inconsistent records on abortion, an issue that has been dogging Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Whether you like him or not, McCain has been consistent on issues," Thune said Saturday, noting that McCain's voting record in the Senate has been consistently anti-abortion. "He's got a voting record, and it's been consistent."

More than two years after his defeat of Daschle, Thune is still popular on the rubber-chicken circuit. This coming week, he'll be in Michigan helping the state GOP raise money. Although it's not in his capacity as a McCain supporter, Thune's appearance there might help McCain, who won the Michigan primary in 2000 but can't take it for granted because Romney's family has political roots in Michigan.

Thune's role in the McCain campaign has not been officially worked out, but he noted that South Dakota borders Iowa and he expects to play a role in trying to help boost McCain both with rural farmers and Christian voters in the all important Hawkeye State caucus next year.

In addition, Thune said McCain's standing on international security issues should play well among conservatives, which was an important factor in Thune's decision to back McCain. Similar to his consistency on domestic social issues, McCain has remained a steadfast supporter of President Bush's war on terror and the war in Iraq even as it has grown more unpopular, Thune said.

"That's a quality at this time in our nation's history that is in need," Thune said.

Thune is now the seventh senator to endorse McCain, which already tops the number of his colleagues who backed his 2000 bid. Thune said he expects several more of his colleagues to join the McCain team shortly.

While Romney trails McCain in Senate endorsements, he has done far better among House Republicans.

Check out The Fix for the most recent breakdown of Congressional endorsements for Republican presidential candidates.

By Paul Kane  |  February 18, 2007; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Senate  
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