Donald Lambro

Critics point to the fact that when Bush's $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill came up for a final vote in the spring of 2001, as the economy showed signs of slipping, McCain was one of two Senate Republicans to vote against it. His reason: "So many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans ..." He opposed Bush's $350 billion tax bill in 2003, when the economy was really in trouble, because he said he was "very concerned about the deficit." Although this year's deficit is much larger than it was back then, he finally voted "aye" for tax cuts that, while good for the economy, will help a lot of upper-income investors, too.

A statement released by McCain's office explaining his switch said the Arizonan was concerned about "the leveling of some key economic indicators such as real GDP growth rates."

Meantime, McCain is also trying to improve his relations with social and religious conservatives who have long harbored suspicions about his commitment to the pro-life cause.

Those suspicions were deepened when he made it clear in his 2000 presidential campaign that he was opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, he said, "In the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force x number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

But when asked in a January interview on "The CBS Early Show" whether he saw the high court banning abortions one day, McCain said, "I've never agreed with Roe v. Wade, so it wouldn't bother me any."

That flat-out remark seemed so at odds with his previous dance around the issue that it smacked of politics pure and simple. The National Right to Life Committee, when asked to comment, said nothing.

Matching one's views to the party's positions is hardly a new campaign tactic in presidential politics, but if those views lack conviction or smack of political opportunism, they can be deadly. John McCain has two years of Senate votes to prove to his skeptics that he really believes what he says.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.