Sen. John McCain (R) will unveil the members of his House whip team today, as the Arizonan seeks to jump-start his effort to build support for his 2008 presidential bid in a chamber where he has never been terribly popular with his fellow Republicans.
GOP Reps. Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), John Shimkus (Ill.), John Shadegg (Ariz.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) will serve as McCain’s emissaries in the House, with additions to the team expected to be announced later.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of such distinguished officials,” said McCain campaign spokesman Danny Diaz. “These Congressmen will play a lead role in growing the base of support Sen. McCain already enjoys in the U.S. House.”
The announcement of McCain’s six-man whip team comes as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of his top rivals for the GOP nod in 2008, has been aggressively courting support from House Members.
Romney is scheduled to address the Republican Study Committee’s retreat in Baltimore on Friday. McCain will not attend the retreat for House conservatives, although his campaign said that former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) will be speaking on his behalf.
McCain has long had a prickly relationship with Republican House Members over the course of his two decades in the Senate.
At times he has riled conservatives with his willingness to buck the Republican establishment, and his efforts to limit pork barrel spending also have drawn the ire of appropriators and other Members seeking to fund pet projects back home.
Bachus, who is the ranking member on the Financial Services panel and also an RSC member, conceded that McCain has ruffled feathers over the years. But he believes McCain has “offended for all the right reasons” and said the fact that the Senator doesn’t seem to be out to win a popularity contest is what ultimately drew him to support his presidential bid.
“He’s not afraid of anybody,” Bachus said, adding that it is evident that McCain won’t be managed. “I don’t want somebody who can be manipulated and used.”
He added: “I think that John McCain is a courageous person. And I think that the president of the United States in the next decade is going to have to be courageous.”
Lungren conceded that he had differences with McCain on issues such as reforming the campaign finance system and immigration policy.
But he said that McCain’s record of fiscal conservatism trumped their disagreements over other policies and that he chose to support him because “on the big issues he’s right.”
“On the [Iraq] War, he’s not a guy who’s sitting there with his finger in the wind,” Lungren said, referring to McCain’s support for the Bush administration’s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq.
And as for those who might mistake McCain’s maverick reputation for an across-the-board moderate ideology, Lungren had this warning: “I think a lot of liberals are going to be pretty surprised.”
From a political standpoint, Lungren said he believes McCain is the type of candidate who could make California competitive in the 2008 general election.