"If Mitt can win California, then we will be able to keep McCain at bay for a while more," says an influential Washington-based conservative activist. "It's all about stopping McCain now."
McCain has been projected as the big Super Tuesday winner, but a major upset in delegate-rich California by Romney would likely keep the GOP race going a little longer. It would also force McCain into even more wooing of conservatives, a topic of discussing in Washington as this week's Conservative Political Action Conference nears. All eyes in the conservative movement are on McCain as he prepares to finally address CPAC this week. While the hardliners appear firmly against a McCain nomination, others are open to listening to his claims that he is one of them.
One of the organizers of the annual conference, which this year expects to attract 6,000, told us: "Listen, he's not one of us, but we have to be willing to listen to what he says. What he is going to say, we don't know, but I'm sure it will be a turn in our direction." McCain snubbed the conference last year, leaving ill feelings among some radio talk show conservatives who have gone on a campaign to attack him recently. McCain allies said that the candidate will likely explain his record and tie himself to conservatives who have endorsed him.
"He knows he has a lot to explain but he's got a good record to do that from," said one ally. Another key conservative, speaking on background, said that if McCain turns his campaign to more conservative issues, that the movement will embrace him. He noted that McCain has recently been praising conservatives, running ads calling himself a conservative, and generally playing up his conservative record.
By Paul Bedard