Can Huckabee, Bush Aides Help McCain? Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is trying to help Sen. John McCain with conservative voters, and two of President Bush's top advisers are taking a role in the McCain campaign. But it may be an awkward fit.
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Can Huckabee, Bush Aides Help McCain?

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Can Huckabee, Bush Aides Help McCain?

Can Huckabee, Bush Aides Help McCain?

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NPR news analyst Juan Williams has been listening along with us and is on the line.

Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Just listening to Mike Huckabee's remarks about Senator McCain there, he did say he hopes to campaign for John McCain. That John McCain is better than any Democrat. That Republican should be dutiful and support him. But he also said Republicans can't win, quote, "when we have abandoned our basic principles." Is that a strong enough endorsement of John McCain to help him with conservatives?

WILLIAMS: Well, Mike Huckabee's uniquely positioned, Steve, as a surrogate, if you will. Because even in the Mississippi primary this week, what we saw was a third of people who identify themselves as very conservative did not vote for McCain. And people who identify themselves as born-again, white Evangelicals, close to a quarter didn't vote for McCain. And that's with nobody else really running and campaigning, including Mike Huckabee.

So Mike Huckabee has the ability to speak to Evangelicals, to speak to people, especially southerners who are at the base of the party. Some might have trouble with him as a vice presidential nominee because of his economic policies and also the strong Evangelical flavor to Mike Huckabee, might hurt McCain with the Independents that are so important to his chances in a general election.

But Huckabee really, as I said, is someone who could stand tall and speak to just the issues that cause concern. And he's got to turn the language he used with Renee around just a little bit.

INSKEEP: Can McCain work with another politician who's still very popular among conservatives, President Bush?

WILLIAMS: Well, right now that's really what's going on on the McCain side. You see a fusion taking place. People like the president's former top political advisor Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, who used to be over at the Republican National Committee for Bush, they're now acting as informal advisors to Senator McCain.

And you've got some Bush people on the - already working with Senator McCain. People like Steve Schmidt, Mark McKinnon, who was communications director on the Bush campaign, now working with Senator McCain.

And, you know, back in 2000 - Steve, you remember this - those folks really gave Senator McCain a rough way to go. They turned religious conservatives in South Carolina against Senator McCain after McCain had won the New Hampshire primary - described him as sometimes temperamental, crazy.

But right now, the fusion that's going on requires that the Republican National Committee start to help the McCain campaign, which is strapped for cash, to build. And so McCain has put his people at the Republican National Committee -people like Carly Fiorina, who used to head Hewlett Packard, Lew Eisenberg, who used to be at Goldman Sachs, and Frank Donatelli is now Deputy Chair of the RNC, and he used to work for both Ronald Reagan and both Bushes - and so you're seeing the Republican establishment now coming together in the form of George Bush's top people around Senator McCain.

INSKEEP: Can McCain depend on Bush to help him raise money without hurting him with Independent voters who may not like the president very much?

WILLIAMS: Good question. Well, you know, the key here is Bush has access to that big money, what are called rangers and pioneers. McCain's going to call them trailblazers or innovators. They can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And what you're going to see is that that's the key, President Bush acting as a bridge to those people for the McCain campaign. Those folks had not been onboard with McCain during the campaign, which is why he doesn't have any money right now and why he's been campaigning all this week in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, trying to raise money, Steve.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Analysis this morning from NPR's Juan Williams.

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