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OPINION

McCain at CPAC

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sen. John McCain's managers, fearing an unfavorable reaction at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Thursday, wanted to precede his speech with a video of Ronald Reagan praising McCain. Talk show host Michael Reagan, the late president's son, offered his own video criticizing McCain. David Keene, chairman of the sponsoring American Conservative Union, turned down both.

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Keene also rejected a plea from the McCain camp for 10 conservative supporters to be seated on the dais. Instead, McCain settled for an opening speech by former Sen. George Allen of Virginia and an introduction by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- both conservatives.

Allen asked for five minutes, was given two minutes and actually talked for over 10 minutes. After McCain left the rostrum, he apologized to Keene for presentations by Allen, Coburn and McCain exceeding the allotted time.

SHRUNKEN STIMULUS

The negotiated settlement Thursday of the Senate standoff over the economic stimulus package acknowledged failure of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's intensive lobbying of retiring Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia. Warner would have been the necessary 60th vote to close debate and permit Senate action on the Republican-opposed bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

Warner, an 80-year-old fifth-termer, occasionally crosses the aisle to vote with Democrats. Reid stressed the Democratic bill's benefits for veterans to Warner, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, a former secretary of navy and a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Even if Warner had agreed, however, Reid could not immediately collect 60 senators because the two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were on the campaign trail and absent from Washington.

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VP PORTMAN?

Republican political operatives close to President George W. Bush are floating the name of one of his former Cabinet members, ex-Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, as John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

Portman at age 52 would be two decades younger than McCain, built a lifetime American Conservative Union voting record in Congress of 89 percent, and has both high-level executive and legislative experience. His biggest asset is coming from Ohio, which was a presidential swing state in 2004 and may be one again in 2008.

After starting in Washington as an aide to the senior President Bush, Portman served 12 years in Congress representing a Cincinnati district and rising to the chairmanship of the House Republican leadership. He left the House in 2005 to become U.S. Trade Representative and later director of the Office of Management and Budget.

VP Pawlenty?

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty raised doubts about his likelihood to become Sen. John McCain's Republican vice presidential candidate on Jan. 30, when he joined with Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell in support of the Senate Democratic leadership's economic stimulus package, which is opposed by President Bush.

Behind the scenes, Pawlenty has been opposed on the stimulus package by conservative Republican Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Rick Perry of Texas.

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Pawlenty and Sanford have been the two sitting governors most prominently mentioned as McCain's running mate. Pawlenty's activity in Washington lobbying for what conservatives call more handouts undermines him for vice president.

BERKELEY VS. MARINES

Conservative Republicans are trying to force a congressional vote on Berkeley City Council efforts to close the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office in that city and provide special access for the CodePink radical antiwar group.

Rep. John Campbell of California promised to introduce the "Semper Fi Act" to rescind all federal spending for the city of Berkeley and transfer those funds to Marine Corps recruiting. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina announced he is planning similar legislation.

The very liberal Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents Berkeley, did not endorse the City Council's anti-Marine resolution but vowed to fight any effort cutting off funds for the city.

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