Gearing Up for '08? McCain Befriends Old Enemies

Once they were "coyotes." Now, they're pals.

Some of the very same men who helped derail Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2000 using techniques the Arizona Republican alleged were illegal -- and whom McCain likened to the prairie carnivores -- are now leading financial supporters of his "Straight Talk America" political action committee and possible backers of his anticipated 2008 presidential run.

The news -- from campaign contribution reports and an invitation to a McCain fundraiser obtained by ABC News -- comes a few weeks after the announcement that the self-styled maverick will deliver the commencement address at an evangelical college started by Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom McCain had once dubbed an "agent of intolerance."

The fence-mending can be construed in any number of ways -- maturation, selling out, or the pragmatic political maneuvers of a frontrunner. But however one views it, the moves stand as a stark contrast to McCain's exciting, occasionally reckless underdog campaign from six years ago.

In March 2000, in the thick of that highly-charged GOP presidential competition between McCain and then-Gov. George W. Bush, Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly -- major contributors to Bush -- funded a $2.5 million advertising campaign by a group calling itself "Republicans for Clear Air" that ran an ad against McCain in California, New York and Ohio.

Initially the Wylys did not acknowledge they were responsible for the ads -- and once it came out that they were they and the Bush 2000 presidential campaign denied any coordination, which would have been a violation of Federal Election Commission laws. McCain's campaign filed a complaint with the FEC alleging the Wylys broke the law.

The candidate himself referred to the brothers as "Wyly coyotes" and asked a campaign audience in Boston, "Are we going to allow two cronies of George W. Bush to hijack this election? Tell them to keep their dirty money in the state of Texas, my friends. Don't spread it all over New England and America."

But now the candidate from Arizona, planning a potential run for president in 2008, seems to have a different relationship with the coyotes.

Sam Wyly and his wife Cheryl have given McCain's political action committee a total of $10,000, according to records on the PAC's Web site. Additionally, Sam, Cheryl, and Charles Wyly are all co-chairing a May 15 fundraiser for McCain's PAC, to be hosted in Dallas, and featuring Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.

"This all seems to me to be a reflection of the fear that lots of old-line Republicans have of what lies ahead in 2008," said Norm Ornstein, congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, "and the ability of McCain to seduce them in a sense into a belief that he's the only guy that can win."

McCain, who spent Sunday in Phoenix with his wife Cindy, was not available for comment. But John Weaver, a senior consultant for McCain and his PAC, said in response that he was "pleased so many people are committed to assisting the senator in his effort to elect Republicans around the country and responding to his reform agenda."

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