Even while he reconciles with former enemies -- McCain cemented himself to President Bush on the campaign trail to 2004, and was one of the president's few allies in the Dubai Ports World controversy -- the senior senator from Arizona and former Vietnam War prisoner of war continues to chart his own way. The immigration reform legislation he co-authored with liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is infuriating some elements of the conservative base for allowing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
At a recent swing through Iowa, McCain disappointed some GOP activists by continuing to say he would vote against a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
"I intend to vote against it," he said. "I believe each state should decide."
He also reaffirmed his opposition to ethanol subsidies, an unpopular stance in the agricultural Midwestern state that holds the first presidential caucus in the nation.
McCain has been criticized by many liberals and pundits in recent weeks for agreeing to speak on May 13 at Liberty University, the school founded by Christian conservative Rev. Jerry Falwell, who McCain in 2000 labeled "an agent of intolerance." McCain told NBC's Tim Russert earlier this month that he no longer held that opinion.
"The, quote, 'Christian Right' has a major role to play in the Republican Party," McCain said. "One reason is because they're so active, and their followers are."
Falwell has told his hometown newspaper, the Lynchburg, Va., News & Advance, that three months ago Falwell met with McCain in his office and they "dealt with every difference we have. There are no deal breakers now. But I told him, 'You have a lot of fence mending to do.' "
"This is going to get tougher over the next few months," Ornstein said. "The press corps and Democrats and opinion leaders and the chattering class are going to get disillusioned and quickly turn on McCain with a vengeance if he's not careful."
On April 5, McCain told Jon Stewart's of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" that he was speaking at Liberty U. "to try to give these young people the same message I give to colleges and universities across the country."
After several rounds of back-and-forth, during which Stewart expressed comedic anguish, the comedian finally asked, "Are you freaking out on us? Are you going into crazy-base world?"
Joked McCain, "I'm afraid so."
The invitation for the event says McCain's PAC was re-launched "to help candidates in the 2006 elections who will support the reforms he has worked so hard to achieve and who are prepared to help strengthen our nation and unite our people. He plans to travel the country actively campaigning for candidates that share the same vision for America."