Published March 21, 2007
WASHINGTON – Using the video site YouTube, the latest tool setting the 2008 White House race apart from past election cycles, Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign fired back at a conservative group Tuesday over its criticism of his fiscal policies.
McCain, R-Ariz., posted remarks from former Club for Growth president Stephen Moore predicting McCain could be the next president because of his message of tax cuts, free trade and limited spending.
“I think John McCain, if he can get to the general election, he has a great chance of being president, especially if he’s up against somebody like Hillary Clinton,” Moore said in a January interview on CNBC. Moore now serves on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.
The response from McCain's camp followed a YouTube posting by the Club for Growth, a powerful group whose conservative base has 40,000 members promoting limited government and free market policies. The club put up video with footage of McCain complaining about the group's recent report on his economic record.
The group, which last week gave McCain GOP rival Sen. Sam Brownback its "Defender of Economic Freedom" award, cited concerns about McCain's votes against President Bush's first-term tax cuts. McCain was one of two Senate Republicans to vote "no" on the $1.35 trillion tax cut bill in 2001. He also voted against Bush's $350 billion tax-cut bill in May 2003.
According to a press release from the group, McCain’s economic record is “tainted by a marked antipathy towards the free market and individual freedom."
In the video by the club, McCain is seen on his "Straight Talk Express" bus tour complaining about the report. "I'm not sure what the Club for Growth and I have really in common," McCain said.
“We’re not sure what we have in common either,” the Club for Growth video responded.
Pat Toomey, president for Club for Growth and a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, told FOXNews.com that McCain has several non-conservative policies that could cost him support in 2008.
“I think he has a real problem with conservatives. I think he has a serious political problem that arises with his frequent crusades for very non-conservative policies,” Toomey said.
McCain’s record shows his opposes tax cuts, supports a patient’s bill of rights and campaign finance reform, Toomey said, all of which don't sit well with conservatives.
McCain’s campaign said the Moore video speaks for itself and it's just another tool that the campaign will use to emphasize his credentials.
“Senator McCain has a 24-year record as a fiscal conservative in the U.S. Senate,” said Matt David, a spokesman for the McCain campaign.
Several government watchdog groups, including Citizens Against Government Waste, have supported McCain's fiscal conservative record in the past, David added.
But McCain has distinguished himself this election cycle by declining to attend functions by several conservative groups attended by other Republican presidential hopefuls. McCain skipped the presidential forum hosted by the Conservative Political Action Conference last month and he won’t attend the Club for Growth's winter conference in Palm Beach, Fla. His campaign said that McCain declined an invitation because he had already scheduled a trip to Iraq.
“I think his campaign probably made the decision that it’s better not to attend than to show up and get an inhospitable reception,” Toomey said.
The Arizona senator also begged out of two other recent conservative events hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C-based conservative think tank, and The National Review magazine.
Club for Growth's Political Action Committee gave $7 million to candidates in the 2006 election cycle, Toomey said. But McCain accused the group of helping defeat Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island last November, which helped turn the Senate over to Democrats.
"The reason why we don’t have a majority in the Senate today was the attacks that Club For Growth made on Lincoln Chafee, the senator from Rhode Island, a liberal Republican senator, but would have voted for Mitch McConnell to be the majority leader of the Senate. They have continuously attacked Republicans that they don’t agree with," McCain told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
"It’s absurd that we played any role in his general election loss," Toomey countered.
While McCain last year mended fences with conservative leader Rev. Jerry Falwell and gave the commencement address at the Falwell-founded Liberty University in Virginia, at least one other conservative rainmaker says he doesn't think McCain is conservative enough, and that will hurt him when it comes time to win the Republican nomination for president next year.
“Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances,” James Dobson, founder of conservative Focus on the Family, told the Jerry Johnson Live program on KCBI 90.9 FM in Colorado in January. “I pray that we won’t get stuck with him.”