Two months ago, Sen. John McCain was barely on Yale students’ political radars. Now he is more than just a small blip on the periphery.
According to a News poll taken in January, only 17 percent of undergraduates expected the Arizona senator to end up as the Republican nominee for president, compared to 32 percent for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and 26 percent for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. But with Giuliani and Romney now out of the race and McCain holding a commanding lead in the national delegate count, Republicans at Yale are starting to shift their focus to boosting the 71-year-old’s general-election prospects, despite some GOP students’ concerns about what they call the maverick senator’s moderate tendencies.
Kathryn Baldwin ’09, president of the Yale College Republicans, said she expects that by November, campus Republicans will rally around McCain — even if only to keep a Democrat out of the White House.
“I think some of the conservatives saying they will not vote for McCain are just stupid,” she said, referring to recent comments by conservative pundits such as Ann Coulter that they would rather vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, a Democrat, than McCain. “They will end up with someone in the White House they disagree with far more than McCain, who they disagree with slightly.”
Baldwin said McCain’s views on Iraq, where he favors keeping U.S. troops for the foreseeable future, and economic policy — he now favors maintaining President George W. Bus’s ’68 tax cuts, which he initially voted against — will help unite campus Republicans in the leadup to November’s general election.
“He’s gotten better at articulating his economic position,” she said. “And he also has done military service. He is going to be very big on national defense.”
But McCain’s centrist views on issues such as immigration judicial nominations have made him the target of some social conservatives across the country. Last summer, McCain cosponsored a bill with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy that would provide a path to citizenship for roughly 12 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally.
He has also come under fire for authoring legislation that limits the amount of money people can contribute to political campaigns and for his support of caps on carbon-dioxide emissions.
Steven Harvey ’11, the head of recruitment for the Yale College Republicans and originally a Romney supporter, said he thinks McCain has abandoned conservative ideology to appease more moderate voters.
“I don’t mind his strong convictions,” Harvey said in reference to McCain’s stance on immigration and taxes. “But I think it is possible for him to maintain his strong convictions while doing more to remember his conservative base. That two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Harvey said he will probably end up supporting McCain in the general election, with the hope that the candidate will move towards a more conservative platform.
Despite some lingering doubts, most Republicans interviewed said they would support McCain in the general election and work to promote his candidacy on campus.
Bradford Galiette ’08, co-founder of Yale for McCain, said that, apart from holding primary-viewing parties, the group has not yet been active on campus. But now that McCain has essentially locked up the Republican nomination, he said, the group plans on inviting people from the McCain campaign to speak to students and on canvassing on campus this and next semester.
Galiette is a former finance director for the News.
Allen Pan ’08, who has interned in McCain’s Washington office and co-founded the Yale for McCain group, said he expects campus Republicans to rally around the candidate. Pan said McCain is in better standing with Republican voters than some conservatives have suggested.
“I doubt that the average conservative voter has a problem with McCain,” Pan said. “It’s just the extremists who have a problem, and it takes some convincing to rebuild those bridges. But he has the time now. When the Republicans really take a look at his candidacy, they will coalesce around him.”
McCain supporters interviewed also said they understand that the impact of their efforts in the coming months will depend on who wins the Democratic nomination — Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73. Pan said he expects Republicans would have an easier time convincing liberals and moderates to support McCain over Clinton than over Obama.
“If Obama would win the ticket, I don’t think McCain would draw the Hillary support, [and] I think the Democrats would unite in that case,” Pan said. “But if Hillary wins the ticket, she is very polarizing, and I think McCain could get some of the Obama supporters.”
Galiette added that this scenario is corroborated by national polling that pits McCain against both of the Democratic candidates in hypothetical matchups. A Time poll conducted Feb. 1-4 shows that, in head-to-head matchups, McCain and Clinton tied each other with 46 percent of the vote, while Obama beat McCain by 7 percent — a figure outside the margin of error.