Viguerie: Most Top Conservatives Lukewarm On McCain

Most of the nation's 400 or 500 top conservative leaders are, for now, lukewarm about John McCain's candidacy, says a leading, old-guard conservative, Richard Viguerie.

"He hasn't reached out to us. He's trying to get our support on the cheap," he told U.S. News. "The feeling is ... the next step is up to McCain. We're waiting to see if he's going to reach out."

Viguerie said conservatives are closely watching McCain's choice of a running mate. He says some whose names are being mentioned--Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota as well as former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, who led the Department of Homeland Security--don't cut it among conservative influentials. Likewise, they're not warm to McCain's onetime rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who Viguerie said "had a late conversion" to conservatism. But he declined to say who would pass muster for the veep's job.

Viguerie also said he and a host of others were disappointed when McCain addressed a recent meeting of the Council for National Policy, which drew conservative opinion leaders to New Orleans. Viguerie said McCain sidestepped a question on whether he would appoint conservatives to key positions in his administration. Viguerie said there's also concern about McCain's potential judicial picks, saying that Supreme Court nominees in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito were acceptable but that McCain would be unlikely to nominate judges who would dismantle the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. He added that when McCain was asked at the council meeting about his faith, he spoke about the faith of one of his Vietnam jailers but not his own.

"With few exceptions, conservatives are sitting on the sidelines or totally unenthusiastic," Viguerie said. While they won't vote Democratic, he cautioned that they may not become involved in get-out-the-vote efforts to rally other conservatives for McCain and will instead roll up their sleeves to help in congressional races. Viguerie, whose office is in Manassas, Va., is chairman of and runs a political advertising and direct-mail firm.

By Katherine Skiba