WASHINGTON – Republican front-runner John McCain received three endorsements Monday — each from a different segment of the Republican establishment — indicating a growing coalescence around the candidate by a much needed but reluctant group of voters: conservative base voters.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, American Values President Gary Bauer and Republican Steering Committee head Rep. Jeb Hensarling all offered their backing to the Arizona senator.
“John McCain is a patriot and devoted conservative leader,” Bush said in a statement released by McCain’s campaign. “Like no other candidate in the field, John McCain has made tremendous sacrifices for this nation. He is beholden to no interest other than that of the public good. He is determined and steadfast in his commitment to reducing the burden of high taxes, restoring the people’s trust in their government, and winning the war against radical Islamic extremists.”
McCain has been strafed daily by conservative voices like radio host Rush Limbaugh and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and he suffered losses this weekend in two out of three states holding nomination contests in the first one-on-one match-up against rival Mike Huckabee.
But McCain has taken a large lead in the battle for convention delegates, making it almost statistically impossible for Huckabee to take the nomination from McCain.
Still, any help McCain can get from the conservative base of his party — who believe strongly in smaller government, abolishing abortion, preventing gay marriage, gun rights and going on the attack against Islamic terrorism — is gladly accepted by a man who received a mixed reception from an audience of conservative Republicans last week.
Bauer, in a statement released by McCain’s campaign, focused on McCain’s military record and his fight against abortion.
“John McCain has dedicated his life to defending human rights around the world, including the rights of the unborn,” said Bauer, a former presidential candidate. “I admire his consistent 24-year pro-life record and demonstrated commitment to the values that keep our families and communities strong.
“John McCain alone has the experience, character and credibility to lead as commander in chief on day one and defeat the transcendent threat of our time — radical Islamic extremism. I am proud to support John McCain for president,” he said.
McCain also received the nod from Hensarling, who heads the group of more than 100 conservative Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“With no disrespect to Governor Huckabee,” Hensarling said, “the primary is all but over.
“I can and will enthusiastically support Senator McCain as our Republican nominee for president. I call upon my fellow conservatives to do the same. I believe that he has earned our party’s nomination, fair and square,” he continued.
“I know John McCain. I have worked with John McCain. I have had some profound differences with him on important issues. Yet, I also respect John McCain and know that on some key issues that are extremely important to our cause, he is right on,” Hensarling said.
Hensarling pointed to McCain’s stance against radical Islam, and said he believed McCain would appoint Supreme Court judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that established the right to an abortion.
“The Senate has rarely seen a champion like John McCain” when it comes to the fight against wasteful spending in Washington,” he added.
In a nod to the right’s reservations about McCain, Hensarling noted that he has policy disagreements with McCain, which he did not mention in the release, but warned that “tepid support or indifference for Senator McCain is support for Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.”
“I ask all conservatives to take stock of where we are and embrace Senator McCain, and in turn I ask Senator McCain to take stock of where he is and embrace conservatives,” Hensarling said.
The endorsements come following a concerted effort on McCain’s part to establish support in that wing of the party, but also on the heels of some setbacks.
In addition to the weekend ballot-box losses, Huckabee secured the endorsement of another coveted voice, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Dobson, who declared that he’s speaking personally and not for his organization, said he couldn’t “under any circumstances,” endorse McCain.
Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative leader and head of the Free Congress Foundation, also will endorse Huckabee, FOX News learned ahead of an announcement. A senior Huckabee campaign source said Weyrich will state that Huckabee’s social conservative record influenced his decision.
McCain did get a boost, though not a full endorsement, Sunday from the party’s biggest voice, President Bush.
In an interview that aired on “FOX News Sunday,” Bush said he believed McCain is a “true conservative.”
“I know him well. I know his convictions. I know the principles that drive him and no doubt in my mind he is a true conservative,” Bush said, adding: “He is very strong on national defense. He is tough fiscally. He believes the tax cuts ought to be permanent. He is pro-life. His principles are sound and solid as far as I’m concerned.”
He noted, however, that McCain still has an uphill battle.
“I think that if John is the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative and I’ll be glad to help him if he is the nominee,” Bush said.