Republican Discontent: Conservatives Dislike McCain, Mistrust Romney

For the last year, conservative Republicans have been unhappy with the Republican field. But some pundits predicted that eventually the party would coalesce around someone.

Now the field has been winnowed down largely to two candidates -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, the discontent remains.

McCain's Conservative Credentials

Thursday, California's Republican Gov.Arnold Schwarzenegger praised McCain for working with Democrats.

"He is reaching across the aisle in order to get things done," the popular actor turned governor said when endorsing McCain in Los Angeles.

But that ability -- which in part earned Schwarzenegger's endorsement -- hurts McCain with conservatives.

"So [McCain] just got the endorsement of a big taxing, big spending, socialist health care eco-extreme governor who says the Republican party needs to follow him to the left," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program.

Conservative on most issues, McCain is resented for opposing the Bush tax cuts, backing immigration reform, and support for taking action on global warming.

"Those views are outside the mainstream of Republican conservative thought," Romney blasted during the most recent -- and perhaps last -- Republican primary debate Wednesday.

"Let me just say I'm proud of my conservative record," McCain shot back.

Questioning Romney

And while Romney claims conservative credentials -- that assertion is undercut by his own record.

"I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush," Romney said during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate bid against Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Six years later, in 2002, Romney sounded as if he favored abortion rights.

"I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose," he said, while campaigning in a successful bid for governor of Massachusetts.

Two Man Race

Either Romney or McCain will almost certainly be the Republican nominee despite an early challenge by former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. But across the nation, conservatives are simply not satisfied.

The lunchtime crowd at Gabriel's Desserts in Cobb County, Ga., lacked an appetite for either candidate.

"I'm not happy with anyone in the field," said Toby Toler, who identified himself as a Republican voter.

There was a similar lack of hunger at the Avalon Diner in Houston.

"I haven't seen a leader in the entire Republican group," said Andy Abercrombie.

With dislike of McCain and distrust of Romney, some say only one candidate could unify and energize conservative voters: Hillary Clinton.

But conservative activists warn the nominee ignores their concerns at his own peril.

"Every time the Republican candidate has not had the enthusiastic support from the base of the Republican party they lose, no matter who the opponent is," said Richard Viguerie, a conservative activist and author.

McCain's 96-year-old mother, Roberta, said the Republican base will ultimately accept her son, the front-runner.

"I think holding their nose they're going to have to take him," she told C-SPAN recently.

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