McCain Faces Tough Criticism At Home

Home isn't always so sweet for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, thanks to a small but vocal group of conservatives who feel the Arizona senator deserted them long ago.

Critics in the Grand Canyon state have been angry since McCain first ran for president in 2000 and cast himself as a middle-of-the-road alternative to President Bush.

They feel abandoned on a host of concerns dear to the party faithful, including:

--McCain's votes to require background checks for gun purchasers at gun shows; against Bush's early tax cuts; and for a patient's bill of rights, which opponents argued would have increased health insurance costs.

--The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which Christian broadcasters say limits what they can tell voters before elections.

--The senator's support for an immigration bill that was defeated by conservatives, who said it amounted to amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In dusty Arizona, where more illegal migrants sneak over the border than anywhere else in the country, conservatives are particularly rankled that McCain endorsed the bill's path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Standing outside Phoenix's public library one hot June day, Chris Bassett, an advertising photographer who voted for McCain in two of his Senate campaigns, said the senator's immigration stance makes it hard to support his presidential run.

"The bill that he is pushing is more of an amnesty, as opposed to protecting the borders," said Bassett, who describes himself as a moderate conservative.

While the home-state critics aren't likely to cost him the presidential race or even Arizona's GOP primary, they have been a nagging and sometimes embarrassing problem for years.

In 2001, three groups formed the Recall John McCain Committee in an attempt to gather the 349,269 signatures needed to boot him from office.

Their official recall petition griped that in his "insatiable desire for massive media attention," McCain had "all but forgotten the people of Arizona who elected him."

After drawing a blitz of media attention, the group failed to gather enough signatures and collapsed a few months later. But the conflicts have persisted.

Last year, McCain supporters and opponents clashed publicly in a race for Republican chairman of the north Phoenix legislative district. In what insiders called a referendum on McCain, former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington was defeated by one of McCain's strongest critics.

And in May, a conservative state lawmaker called for McCain to step down because the senator had missed almost half of his congressional votes while campaigning for president.

"His one steady issue is that he is for himself as far as being president of the United States," said Rob Haney, the victor in the GOP district race. "And he'll take whatever political position that he thinks will enhance that."

The sentiment appears to be reflected in his fundraising at home. In the first quarter of the year, McCain raised less than $1.3 million of the almost $2.2 million Republicans raised in Arizona, according to an analysis by the Federal Election Commission.

Several of the other major candidates did much better at home, the FEC found. By comparison, one of McCain's rivals for the nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, took in $2.3 million of the almost $2.7 million raised by Republicans in his home state.

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