McCain, Giuliani Skipping Some Conservative Events
By: Jonathan Martin
February 2, 2007 08:34 AM EST
A speech given by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney before a National Review-sponsored conference last week may have been panned as unfocused, but in the eyes of those who attended, he at least had one thing going for him: He showed up.
Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both of whom face serious skepticism from many conservatives, skipped the National Review event, and neither plans to attend a gathering of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative House members, this weekend in Baltimore.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the RSC chairman, is "looking forward to hearing Mitt Romney and believes that the RSC retreat offers a unique opportunity for some of the top minds in the conservative movement to come together to strategize, discuss and be heard," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the group.
Romney, who is aggressively seeking the favor of conservative leaders, is on the schedule to address the RSC on Friday. In March, he is scheduled to speak at the Club for Growth's winter conference in Florida and to appear before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union and one of the chief organizers of CPAC, said his group hadn't heard back yet from either McCain or Giuliani about whether they'll be at the three-day meeting, which starts March 1. "I frankly don't get it," Keene shrugged in an interview Wednesday. "On the one hand," he said, McCain has been "trying to court the right, but on the other, he seems to be dissing them."
Keene, who has not picked a candidate, readily admits that he has his differences with the maverick senator, but suggested that McCain has pluses that would resonate before a conservative audience, notably his hawkish stance on government spending and the Iraq war.
Asked to explain why they would pass on an opportunity to make their case before such influential audiences, members of McCain's camp said they don't have as much to prove.
"It's important to keep in mind that the senator has served as a conservative for over 20 years in Congress," said campaign spokesman Danny Diaz. "These people know him, they know his pro-life record, his fiscal conservatism, his stance on the war on terror. The same can't be said for others in the race."
When McCain cannot attend an event, he has sent surrogates, Diaz said. Conservative activist Bob Heckman was at the National Review conference, and former Sen. Phil Gramm is standing in for him at the RSC meeting in Baltimore. As for the CPAC gathering in March, Diaz said a decision would be made in the "coming days and weeks."
Giuliani's team excuses his absence from National Review and RSC by pointing out that he is speaking to conservative audiences in places that will have considerable sway in deciding the next nominee. The former mayor was in New Hampshire last weekend addressing the Republican convention, said Giuliani spokeswoman Katie Levinson. "This weekend he's down in South Carolina at the invitation of the state party." He'll also speak to the state party's executive committee.
Reaching out to Republicans across the board is important to Giuliani, she said, and is something he'll continue to do aggressively.
A decision has not been made on if Giuliani will attend CPAC, but he plans to speak before the board of the conservative Hoover Institution when it meets for a conference next month in Washington.
As with McCain, ACU's Keene predicts Giuliani would get a decent reaction should he also make it to CPAC in part because he's a celebrity of sorts. "Many conservatives admire his performance in NYC on crime, taxes and after 9/11," he said.
To Romney's camp, there is truth to Woody Allen's maxim about the importance of just showing up.
"As the old saying goes, a true friend is the person who walks into the room when all the others get up and walk out," quipped Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the former governor. "As a conservative Republican who wants to lead our party to victory and champion our ideals, Governor Romney prefers to reach out to these important groups as opposed to ignoring them."