Mobilizing for 2008 bid, McCain heads to Michigan

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), having scored a publicity coup in helping forge last week’s filibuster agreement, next week heads to Michigan — site of one of his most stunning primary wins in 2000 and a launch pad for a possible 2008 White House bid. McCain will attend a Lincoln Day Dinner on Monday evening in Macomb County, outside Detroit. That event, which is expected to draw at least 500 people, is to be preceded by a nearby reception.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), having scored a publicity coup in helping forge last week’s filibuster agreement, next week heads to Michigan — site of one of his most stunning primary wins in 2000 and a launch pad for a possible 2008 White House bid.

McCain will attend a Lincoln Day Dinner on Monday evening in Macomb County, outside Detroit. That event, which is expected to draw at least 500 people, is to be preceded by a nearby reception.
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): All signs point to a bid for the White House.


Scott MacFarlane, a spokesman for Rep. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), whose district encompasses much of Macomb, said the congresswoman would be at the event.

The trip comes a month-and-a-half after McCain traveled to Michigan for fundraisers for Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the Kent County Republican Party and state Attorney General Mike Cox (R).

Those events drew overflow crowds, forcing organizers in some cases to change venues or provide video hook-ups for attendees to view the senator from adjoining rooms. The Kent County fundraiser drew 1,800 people.

“I think it’s hard to look at what John is doing and say he’s not running for something,” state GOP spokesman Nate Bailey said.

Chuck Yob, the Republican national committeeman from Michigan, said the senator had been cultivating ties with party officials, including backers of President Bush’s 2000 bid, across the state.

“I would say Bush is popular in Michigan,” Yob said. “But I would say McCain is very popular.”

Yob added: “He gets criticized all the time for being a maverick, but he’s a good Republican.” He recalled that McCain campaigned for Yob in his unsuccessful 2000 race against Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) even though Yob supported Bush in the GOP primary.

Yob said that state Republicans are focused on 2006 — above all, beating Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, both Democrats — and that he and McCain have not discussed 2008.

But one leading Michigan Republican who has been involved in presidential and Senate campaigns suggested  that McCain is laying the groundwork for a 2008 White House bid.

And Marshall Wittmann, a former communications director for McCain and an advisor to his presidential campaign who is now at the Democratic Leadership Council, said the senator looks to be charting a “northern and western tier” strategy to win the GOP White House nomination.

“Probably, the McCain strategy is predicated on winning many of the centrists while the conservatives divide that vote, particularly in the South,” Wittmann said.

A Democratic source in Michigan familiar with state politics called the McCain plan a “legitimate strategy,” saying Michigan voters like independent voices and know McCain well.

The Democrat noted that McCain’s 2000 state campaign director, Joe Schwarz, won a House seat in the 7th District last year, giving him more control over fundraising dollars and grass-roots operations.

Referring to former Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), Wittmann said McCain appeals to “neo-Goldwaterites” in the West who support a strong defense and small government but are more socially tolerant.

McCain’s chief rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, for now, are Sens. Bill Frist (Tenn.), the majority leader, George Allen (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.).

Except for Hagel, who is thought by some Republicans to be wooing the same centrist voters who backed McCain in 2000, the GOP White House hopefuls have played to their party’s right wing.

Many conservative activists have portrayed the recent filibuster agreement, spearheaded by McCain, as a precursor to the 2008 showdown between McCain and one of his more conservative presidential foes.

David Keene of the American Conservative Union (and a columnist for The Hill) contended that McCain may be popular outside the Republican Party — and he may be able to win open Republican primaries like those in Michigan — but he has little support at the grass roots.

Bailey, the Michigan GOP spokesman, said McCain is well liked in the state but added that he had alienated many conservatives by playing a prominent role in hammering out the filibuster accord — and sinking some of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Hoekstra has a slightly different take. The congressman argued in an interview yesterday that McCain’s popularity in his conservative 2nd District, one of only two lost by the Arizonan in the presidential primary, was evidence that the senator cannot be easily categorized.

“There was a high interest in McCain being here and people just wanting to get an up close, personal look at one of the national Republican figures,” Hoekstra said of the western Michigan fundraiser, which drew 600-plus people paying $25 apiece for lunch.

But Hoekstra, who would not say whether he would say support a McCain presidential bid in 2008, acknowledged that the senator “may not have made as many friends … on what recently happened with the judges,” the congressman said.

A House Republican aide suggested the new interest in McCain stemmed, in part, from his support for President Bush during the closing weeks of the 2004 campaign. Other Republicans, including Yob, said the television movie based on McCain’s book, “Faith of Our Fathers,” which aired Monday night on A&E, had generated significant support for the senator.