Phil Stone had reservations about John McCain as the GOP presidential nominee but now represents the support the Arizona senator hopes to draw to his candidacy in the final fortnight before the Iowa caucuses.
“I have decided his experience, his heroism and his judgment is what matters to me,” said Stone of Perry, Iowa. “Plus, I think he is the only one who can run against any of the Democrats and get a good share of the independents.”
McCain said the three newspaper endorsements he received over the weekend should help his resurging bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination.
Endorsements from The Des Moines Register, the Boston Globe and the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald came at a critical time.
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McCain already received the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the state's staunchly conservative and largest newspaper. He also won the endorsement last week of the Salmon Press, a New Hampshire chain that publishes 11 weekly newspapers.
“What we have been trying to do for a while is to get that second look from Republicans,” McCain said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he was raising money. He started the campaign as a front-runner until money problems, coupled with his support for comprehensive immigration reform, prompted his drop in the polls last summer. “These endorsements help us to get that in New Hampshire, South Carolina - and now I hope in Iowa.”
McCain's campaign, once lagging, has signs of renewed support.
“I honestly have never seen it so fluid out there,” said Marlys Popma, a longtime Republican operative in Iowa and McCain's liaison with social-conservative groups. “I think 30 (percent) to 50 percent of the Republicans are going to walk into the caucuses that night not knowing who they are going to support.”
A national poll released last week showed both the opportunity and the challenge ahead of McCain and other Republicans seeking the party's presidential nomination.
Potential voters view none of the Republican candidates in the field favorably, the New York Times-CBS News poll showed.
Yet among Republicans, McCain was viewed most favorably by 37 percent - second only to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, at 41 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was viewed favorably by 36 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was viewed favorably by 30 percent.
But when asked whom they were most likely to support, McCain ranked fourth in the Times-CBS poll, behind Giuliani, Huckabee and Romney.
Popma said she sees key social-conservative groups splitting their support among candidates, though some seem to be gravitating toward Huckabee, who is the leader in Iowa in most polls.
Huckabee's rise in Iowa, combined with McCain's progress in New Hampshire, where polls show him running second to Romney, also makes McCain supporters hopeful. They believe a Huckabee victory in Iowa can lead to a McCain victory in New Hampshire - and, the theory goes, that would force Republicans across the country to give McCain serious consideration.
Monday in New Hampshire, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., another political maverick, announced his support for McCain.
McCain completed a two-day swing through Iowa on Thursday. In those appearances, McCain began to emphasize that Republicans squandered their chance to reduce government spending and instead “were corrupted by it.”
“We had a chance to change government and it changed us,” McCain said. “We didn't lose the election in 2006 because of Iraq, we lost it because the Republican majority allowed the largest increase in spending since the Great Society.”
Both Stone and Cork Smalley of Des Moines now count themselves in McCain's camp after re-examining their Republican choices.
Smalley said he was uncommitted until recently.
“McCain's problems began in 2000 when he skipped Iowa,” Smalley said, referring to McCain's decision not to participate in the Iowa caucuses during his previous presidential campaign. “It bothered me, and it just took me a while to become a supporter.”
Stone said he switched to McCain when the military surge in Iraq began to ease the violence there. He said McCain should get credit for having opposed the Bush administration's handling of the war until more troops were committed.
“I was impressed because he stood his ground when Republicans criticized him, and then his judgment about what had to happen seems to be working,” Stone said. “That tells me his experience and his character has made him ready for the job.”
By TOM WITOSKY, The Des Moines Register