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Saturday, March 13, 2010

McCain: Time will tell what future holds

U.S. Sen. John McCain said it’s too early to know whether Republicans will seize control of Congress this fall or if voters will retire President Barack Obama after one term.

But the 2008 Republican presidential nominee said the federal spending excesses of his own party turned too many fiscal conservatives into independent voters.

“A lot of voters are becoming independents,” McCain, a two-time New Hampshire presidential primary winner, said Friday. “We blew a lot of opportunity during the Bush years in failing to show that we were fiscally responsible.

“We paid a price for it, and still haven’t been able to get those voters back who should naturally be Republicans.”

The GOP will make big gains in the midterm elections if Republican candidates go beyond tapping into voter anger about the economy and record budget deficits and offer forward- looking solutions to the country’s challenges, McCain said.

“I think it’s too early to know,” McCain said of chances for a Republican takeover on Capitol Hill.

“Campaigns matter, but I also think we Republicans have to have a positive agenda, and one that Americans believe in.”

McCain said Obama could take a lesson from former President Bill Clinton, who worked more closely with Republicans after he lost his own national health care crusade in Congress and then a majority in the U.S. House in the 1994 midterm elections.

“After ‘Hillary-care’ collapsed,” McCain said, “President Clinton moved dramatically to the center, enacted welfare reform, worked in a bipartisan way to produce a balanced budget.

“There is a precedent for a Democrat governing from the center who was successful. It will be very interesting to see what strategy this president adopts after the November elections.”

McCain returned to the state to host a fundraiser Friday and a town hall-style forum today at Pennichuck Middle School in Nashua with Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte, of Nashua.

McCain doesn’t often take sides in Senate primaries, and he faces his own challenge for re-election from radio talk show host J.D. Hayworth, a former Arizona congressman.

“What really prompted me to weigh in was the quality of the candidate,” McCain said. “Kelly Ayotte is a person who represents what we want in the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate.

“I have known Kelly for quite a period of time, and been very impressed by her record as attorney general.”

Republican Senate rival Ovide Lamontagne has charged that McCain has joined the GOP establishment in backing Ayotte.

N.H. Democratic Party spokeswoman Emily Browne said Ayotte was a natural fit for McCain, as both oppose Obama’s national health care plan.

“Kelly Ayotte and John McCain have a lot in common these days,” Browne said in a statement.

“Both are facing contentious primaries, both are taking thousands from big insurance to shore up their campaigns and both have chosen – at every step on the road to real health care reform – to stand with insurance companies and corporate interests instead of struggling middle-class families and small businesses.”

McCain called “relatively meaningless” the four Republican-suggested changes Obama offered to the health care bill after a summit at which McCain and the president briefly squared off.

“The changes are relatively meaningless, especially since the House is going to have to vote on the Senate bill without any changes,” McCain said.

Senate Democratic leaders would make a serious mistake if they use reconciliation rules to try to pass a health care bill with a majority to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster, McCain said.

“I don’t know whether they ram it through or not,” he said. “All of the action is in the House to see if they can get the votes for the Senate bill.

“I think they would make a terrific mistake to enact a reform that represents one-sixth of the economy that polls show a majority of Americans do not want.”

McCain pointed out he worked with Senate Democrats to stop the Bush White House from using reconciliation to move on stalled federal judicial nominees.

“I was against it when I was in the majority,” McCain said.

McCain said he has met only in groups of other lawmakers with Obama and hasn’t had a single personal conversation with him.

“There has not been any personal contact that maybe some had expected,” McCain said.

As for Obama governing in a bipartisan way, McCain said he hasn’t seen it.

“After the election, the president and the Democratic leadership decided that they would govern without the Republicans, that they would not need any of us,” McCain said.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or