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McCain's candor, as usual, gives his foes an opening

February 3, 2008 |  6:47 pm

As Mitt Romney fights to stay alive in the Republican presidential race, he and his campaign are doing their best to haunt John McCain with his own words. On Sunday, Romney's highly vigilant media shop jumped on a comment he made to reporters a few weeks back while stumping in South Carolina: "It's not social issues I care about."

The quote was buried deep, deep in a Washington Post story on the overall ideological struggle between McCain and Romney. But the latter's staff was quick to highlight it in a release that included excerpts from a lengthy Vanity Fair profile a year ago, such as this quote from a former McCain aide: "Yes, he's a social conservative, but his heart isn't in this stuff."

None of this will come as a big surprise to those within the GOP for whom opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage is paramount. Social conservatives long have known that although McCain's voting record is generally solid on their issues, it is not an agenda he could be expected to promote.

The Romney camp, in its release, smartly paired ...


McCain's expression of apathy toward social issues with comments he's made about his grounding in economics (i.e., "I still need to be educated" on that subject.).

As Romney seeks to keep his candidacy viable, he's hoping that these holes in McCain's GOP resume will eventually undercut his rival's momentum. But Romney may run out of time. It's clear that many well-known party members see the McCain train leaving the station, and they're rushing to hop aboard.

On Sunday, Pete Wilson -- who last September endorsed Rudy Giuliani -- signed up with McCain, now that his first choice has exited the race. A few hours later, another former California governor, George Deukmejian (a politician not known for getting ahead of the curve), was announced as a McCain supporter.

Still, these and other endorsements -- regardless of how numerous -- can't undo the damage McCain often does with his own words to his avowed goal of uniting the GOP's disparate elements behind his banner.

-- Don Frederick