Phone calls trigger Bauer endorsement of McCain
Editor's note: Michael Ferullo of allpolitics.com is traveling with the McCain campaign.
GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) -- A pair of phone calls paved the way for conservative activist and former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer to endorse his former rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, campaign aides for the senator said Wednesday.
McCain, locked in a tight race here with Texas Gov. George W. Bush before Saturday's GOP presidential primary, talked with Bauer Tuesday night and again Wednesday morning before Bauer agreed to the endorsement, Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, said Wednesday.
Gary Bauer endorsed Sen. John McCain Wednesday.
He said that the two former rivals, who maintained a cordial relationship during the campaign, weren't "on the same page" after Tuesday night's call, but that Wednesday's phone session resolved the concerns.
"He (Bauer) staked out very strong positions on social issues and some foreign policy issues that we disagree with, but all and all, I think they are compatible," Davis said.
Although Bauer barely registered a blip in South Carolina polls before bowing out of the Republican presidential race earlier this month, his conservative credentials are well-known. Wednesday, McCain characterized the endorsement "as one of the most wonderful events of the entire political campaign."
Bauer's support isn't likely to sway a huge bloc of votes in McCain's crucial South Carolina primary showdown with Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Saturday, but campaign officials hope to use the endorsement as a shield against attacks from the rival camp that question their candidate’s conservative credentials.
The Bush camp has accused McCain, who has called for a "national dialogue" with abortion rights advocates, of flip-flopping on the issue while anti-abortion advocacy groups have run radio spots criticizing the Arizona senator for refusing to make the issue a litmus test for the appointment of federal judges.
"I think it reassures people that John McCain has a good record on the right to life issue and it can cut through some of the misrepresentations the Bush campaign has put out on our record," said Davis.
But the Bauer endorsement conceivably could be a double-edged sword for McCain, who is relying heavily on strong voter turnout among independents and Democrats eligible to participate in the Palmetto State primary.
Unlike McCain, the conservative activist made social issues the hallmark of his campaign by calling for a constitutional amendment banning abortion without exemption and harshly criticizing homosexuality.
The McCain camp downplayed such differences, but also said that they had no plans for advertisements of the Bauer endorsement in South Carolina -- where 40 percent of GOP voters in the 1996 election identified themselves as Christian conservatives -- or elsewhere on the campaign trail.
McCain also has spoken to publisher Steve Forbes -- who dropped out of the race after dismal showings in the New Hampshire and Delaware primaries -- but campaign officials said Wednesday that an endorsement scenario was never part of their conversation.
In announcing his backing of McCain during a rally at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, on Wednesday, Bauer called Arizona senator "the best shot we have to end an era of Bill and Hillary
(Clinton) and (Vice President) Al Gore.
"I know when John was in that POW camp he wasn't sitting around thinking about the wealth of America or the power of America. He was thinking about that moral idea of America," said Bauer.
He joked to the mixed crowd of college students and Vietnam veterans that he was offering the endorsement with one string attached: "a front row seat for his inauguration."
Members of the audience welcomed the endorsement. "I think its great for John McCain," said Greenville resident Roderick Quainton, a life-long Democrat who said he was attracted to McCain because of the "character issue." "It's not going to change my vote for him."
Younger members of the audience largely echoed his sentiments.
"I think Senator McCain has showed himself to be a very inclusive candidate," said freshman student Rebecca Degraffenreid. For me, this campaign isn't about abortion, its about who's the best candidate for the presidency."