GOP Platform Balances Positions Of McCain, Party

As Democrats wrap up their convention Thursday in Denver with Sen. Barack Obama's acceptance of his party's nomination, Republicans are getting ready for their own extravaganza starting Monday in St. Paul, Minn.

The 112 GOP delegates hammered out the final version of their party platform Wednesday in Minneapolis. It proved to be an exercise in balancing positions held by the party faithful with those of their presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain.

At about 20,000 words, this year's GOP platform is not even half the length of the one the party banged out four years ago. As always, this document does not oblige any candidate to follow its positions, but it does serve as a key reference on where the party officially stands.

Mississippi governor and platform committee delegate Haley Barbour considered the final product a success.

"This is a platform that all Republicans can run on, but also is a platform where, rightly, the members of the committee took into consideration that there's no need to just gratuitously poke your finger in your nominee's eye because there's a slight disagreement over this or that," Barbour said.

Unlike the last GOP platform, which mentioned George W. Bush on nearly every page, this platform mentions McCain only in its preamble — and some of the positions it takes fly in the face of McCain's own record as something of a Republican maverick.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Jane Orie read the party's stance opposing same-sex marriage: "We call for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman."

McCain has consistently opposed such a constitutional amendment because he thinks it's an issue for states to resolve.

He has also urged action to curb global warming and favors a cap-and-trade system that many in his party oppose. The GOP platform makes no mention of cap and trade, while it rails against what it calls "doomsday climate change scenarios."

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, considers the platform "very conservative" and says it clearly falls short of what the McCain campaign would have wanted.

"Obviously, they're very interested in not being slapped in the face, and the party's not interested in slapping the candidate in the face," Keene said. "But the party has not taken the position that you would've wanted them to take if you were a campaign operative for John McCain."

But if there was a major concession to the McCain campaign, it was on the issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. Unlike most Republicans, McCain opposes such drilling. The draft of the platform that went before the full committee Wednesday advocated more oil exploration in Alaska, but not specifically in ANWR. Alaska delegate David Boyle sought to change that.

"After the word Alaska, in line 31, I would like to add, 'comma, including the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,' " Boyle said.

Backing up Boyle was Cathie Adams of Texas, who argued that spelling out a commitment to drill in ANWR would be a boon to the party.

"Since this has become the No. 1 issue in this campaign, we want to drill here, drill now, pay less," Adams said. "In that spirit, I think that this is a very positive move and one that would be very complementary, one that would bring people to the party and to our candidate."

But others sought to protect McCain, including Oregon's Jeff Grossman.

"We all support, I think, drilling in ANWR, and we know that President McCain will eventually come around to our position. But he's not there yet. And so I would say prudence would dictate that we leave the text as it is until our candidate catches up with us a little bit," Grossman said.

The debate went on and on, between those who saw no reason to highlight party differences with McCain and those who insisted that the GOP not abandon its past strong advocacy for drilling in the wildlife refuge. Platform co-chairman Kevin McCarthy finally called for a verdict on adding ANWR to the platform.

The amendment failed, but not by much. A divided party, in this case, chose to side with McCain.

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