A Capital View: McCain's Lingering Primary Problem

Lost in the turmoil and media coverage of the Democratic race for president is the protest vote being cast against Sen. John McCain in the Republican primaries despite his lock on the nomination.

Roughly one fourth of Republican voters have taken the trouble in recent weeks to cast votes for others whose names still appear on ballots.

Granted, many of these voters will come home in November once the other choice is Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton. Still, it should be a warning to the senator from Arizona that voters with libertarian or religious-right views are wary of him and his record.

In North Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee drew over 10 percent of the vote. Before he dropped out, his main appeal was to Christian rightists. Those folks are a core of the GOP base.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas got 7.6 percent of the vote and did even better in Pennsylvania on April 21. Paul has attracted hundreds of thousands of libertarians who want the government to deliver the mail and that's about all.

Paul wants U.S. troops out of Iraq yesterday while McCain still talks of victory there without defining exactly what a victory would look like. Paul says he will not run for president as the Libertarian Party candidate--as he did in 1988--but will seek re-election to Congress.

However, former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr may carry the Libertarian banner. A crusty, humorless politician, he would be at least an annoyance to McCain.

All of this, GOP analysts will argue, is a tempest in a teapot compared with the bitter struggle on the Democratic side. McCain backers will assure these protest voters in the months ahead of his allegiance to conservatism.

Nevertheless, this clear opposition to McCain's maverick side exists. Some of these archconservatives seem angry that McCain even talks to Democrats in Congress.

McCain may find it necessary, as he already has, to polish his right-wing bona fides. In Philadelphia this week, he promised to appoint Supreme Court judges in the mold of Bush judges--Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

That promise alone should be upsetting to Democrats and independents who are thinking of voting for McCain in November.

By John W. Mashek