- Politico -
Fresh from a humbling loss in last year’s presidential election, Sen. John McCain is working behind-the-scenes to reshape the Republican Party in his own center-right image.
McCain is recruiting candidates, raising money for them and hitting the campaign trail on their behalf. He’s taken sides in competitive House, Senate and gubernatorial primaries and introduced his preferred candidates to his top donors.
When the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy created a vacant Senate seat in Massachusetts, McCain went so far as to solicit former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling to run for the seat.
It’s all part of an approach that is at odds with most other recent failed presidential nominees, whose immediate response to defeat was to retreat from the electoral arena. But those familiar with McCain’s thinking say he has expressed serious concern about the direction of the party and is actively seeking out and supporting candidates who can broaden the party’s reach.
In McCain’s case, that means backing conservative pragmatists and moderates.
“I think he’s endorsed people with center-right politics because he has an understanding that the party is in trouble with certain demographics and wants to have a tone that would allow us to grow,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is McCain’s closest friend and ally in the Senate.
“At a time when our party is struggling and has a lot of shrill voices and aggressive voices, he’s one that can expand our party,” said John Weaver, a longtime McCain friend and strategist.
“John remains the titular head of the Republican Party and he will be until there’s a new nominee,” he said. “Most of the people that ran and lost you never heard from again,” he said. “He’s not going to be like Ed Muskie or Hubert Humphrey.”
For moderate Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, the Arizona senator has been a trusted source of counsel, and a generous benefactor.
Before Kirk announced he would seek the Illinois Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama, McCain frequently encouraged him to run.
“The key quote was, ‘Service in the House in the minority is worth a warm bucket of…’” Kirk told POLITICO, smiling as he recalled his conversations with McCain about a prospective Senate campaign.
“I actually love service in the House, whether it’s in the minority or not,” Kirk said. “So I disagreed with him on that. But his strong encouragement and backing—and he’s a personal hero of mine—did have an impact on my thinking.”
Yet McCain has offered much more than just inspiration. He has endorsed Kirk in the GOP primary, released his entire donor list to him and made Kirk the beneficiary of a $500,000 McCain-sponsored fundraiser earlier this year. And Kirk now counts Steve Schmidt, one of McCain’s top staffers on the 2008 campaign, as an informal advisor.
“[McCain] has told us that, with regard to my campaign for the Senate, what you need from us you will get,” said Kirk.
McCain, it turns out, has emerged as a political godfather of sorts to a number of other candidates aside from Kirk, providing them with unfiltered access to a national fundraising network he has cultivated over a span of two decades.
In mid-September, McCain invited his favored candidates to the St. Regis Hotel in midtown Manhattan to rub shoulders with 40 of the senator’s top donors at a reception for the Arizona Republican.Continue reading...