That dynamic was illustrated last year when McCain was the only major Republican presidential candidate not to attend the annual CPAC convention in Washington, DC. "It just didn't fit in with our schedule," McCain said at the time. It was another snub of a key block of the party and a reminder of the uncomfortable relationship between them.
The candidate who labeled some social conservative leaders as "agents of intolerance" in 2001 is now on the verge of winning the party's nomination and will try to repair the breach he has helped create with a speech at CPAC today. What McCain offers conservatives and how activists receive him will be closely watched to determine just how far the two sides have to come if they are to unify for the general election.
It would be an easier task if McCain were entering the speech with the nomination wrapped up, but Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee show no signs of giving up the firth despite the long odds they face. McCain is well over half way to locking up enough delegates to claim the nomination. According to CBS estimates, McCain has 699 delegates right now, compared to 162 for Huckabee and 157 for Romney (not all the Super Tuesday delegates have been estimated yet). With just over 1,300 delegates left on the table, the math isn't difficult. Romney or Huckabee would have to win huge majorities in mostly proportional contests to reach the 1,191 delegates needed for the nomination.
Romney will speak before McCain and will help set the tone. In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, Romney blistered McCain's conservative credentials, even calling the Arizona Senator a legislator with "liberal" ideas. If Romney keeps up the mantra today, he may well get a roar of approval. But with slim hopes of winning the nomination, does Romney want to play that role any longer?
The one name that we're certain to hear often today is Ronald Reagan, who launched the conservative movement at this same conference over two decades ago. His is the mantle GOP candidates have wrestled over during this campaign. Can McCain revive some of that Reagan magic today?
The Votes Are In: McCain may have a huge delegate lead but the race has been much closer on the ground. According to CBS News, McCain has won over 4.8 million votes cast so far while Romney has collected over 4.1 million and Huckabee just over 2.4 million. McCain owes a big thanks to Rudy Giuliani who helped engineer rules changes in New York and New Jersey to make them winner-take-all states. McCain won both on Tuesday.
The picture is different on the Democratic side. According to CBS News estimates, Hillary Clinton has a slim delegate lead over Barack Obama, 1,058 to 984 with super delegate estimates figured in. That difference mirrors the split in actual votes to date, with Clinton garnering 8,914,030 votes and Obama winning 8,392,514.
Fears Of A Brokered Convention: DNC chair Howard Dean probably isn't sleeping too well these days with the prospect of leading a brokered convention seeming more and more possible, if not likely. "The idea that we can afford to have a big fight at the convention and then win the race in the next eight weeks, I think, is not a good scenario," Dean told NY1 in an interview. "I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April," he said, "but if we don't, then we're going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement. … I don't think we can afford to have a brokered convention -- that would not be good news for either party." Get those super delegates on speed dial.
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