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Dole Tells Limbaugh To Give McCain A Chance, Igniting Spat

We've been following the split amongst conservatives who support GOP frontrunner John McCain – either wholeheartedly or grudgingly – and those who continue to fight against the prospect of a McCain nomination.

The list of those in the latter camp is not short: It includes Rick Santorum, Robert F. Bennett, Rick Santorum, David Keene, Tom Delay, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, George Voinovich, Paul Weyrich, and Thad Cochran, who told the Washington Post that "the thought of [McCain] being president sends a cold chill down my spine."

Yesterday, former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole sent a letter to Limbaugh, one of McCain's harshest critics, asking him to offer his "enthusiastic support" to "[w]hoever wins the Republican nomination."

Dole admitted that he disagrees with McCain's votes against the Bush tax cuts and on campaign finance reform, but writes that he "cannot recall a single instance when he did not support the Party on critical votes."

He cites McCain's pro-life record, calls him a "strong advocate for strict constructionist judges," writes that he supported voluntary school prayer, and notes that McCain backed a balanced budget amendment, opposed pork barrel spending, and defends second amendment rights.

"McCain is a friend and I proudly wore his P.O.W. bracelet bearing his name while he was still a guest at the 'Hanoi Hilton,'" Dole writes. "I believe our major candidates are mainstream conservatives and that our nominee will address our concerns by keeping taxes low, reducing corporate taxes, protecting and assisting the vulnerable, strengthening our traditional values, and above all, keeping America strong militarily, whatever the cost."

Asked about Dole's letter this morning, rival Mitt Romney told Fox News that Dole is "probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me." That prompted McCain, appearing on MSNBC, to demand that Romney apologize to Dole.

"He's a great American," McCain said. "And for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero, I think is disgraceful."

Romney, meanwhile, yesterday released a Web ad pushing his theme that McCain is not a conservative. In the spot, "Very Close," an announcer asks, "Is John McCain really the heart and soul of the Republican Party?"

The ad then shows a podium with McCain's picture on it moving closer and closer to a Clinton podium as an announcer says the two agree on "amnesty for illegal immigrants," opposing the Bush tax cuts, a gas tax, and blocking conservative judges.

"Even Bill Clinton says 'she and John McCain are very close," the ad concludes, using audio of comments Clinton made about the two senators' personal relationship, not their positions on the issues. "Don't we need a leader who agrees with us?"

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