House GOP Members Could Be Warming to McCain

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - If Democrats see the November election as their best chance since 1994 of winning a majority in the House of Representatives, some Republicans see the presidential candidacy of Arizona Senator John McCain as their best chance of holding them off.

Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the House impeachment managers who built the case for removing President Clinton, is among the leading conservatives throwing their support behind McCain in this year's Republican primary campaign.

Graham views positively McCain's broad appeal and believes the Arizona senator would have a better chance than George W. Bush of beating Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic nominee in November.

"Senator McCain is bringing a lot of new people to the party, and he has a pretty conservative voting record," Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop told "He'll give us the best chance. Right now he's beating Al Gore by 22 points, as opposed to Bush, who leads Gore by two to five points" in polls.

Until McCain began to draw record numbers of voters to the polls in primaries, House Republicans have been uncertain about their chances of holding their slim majority. In 1998, at the height of the President Clinton impeachment scandal, the Republicans actually lost seats to Democrats, leaving them with a majority of 222 to 211, with two independents.

All of these seats will be up for election in November, including about 30 open seats, which are expected to be hotly contested.

Democrats have pledged to use the Republicans' impeachment attempt against them in the fall, and reportedly are raising record amounts of money -- $33 million last year compared with $15 million during the same period in 1997 - to fund the campaign.

McCain as senator voted to impeach Clinton, a stand on principle that could potentially make him a soul mate of House Republicans, whose efforts to oust the president are portrayed by Clinton supporters as mean-spirited at best and treasonous at worst.

Now some House Republicans think the time is coming when they can finally make political hay on their stand on impeachment, and not run from it.

"McCain has shone a lot of light on the fact that he voted to impeach Clinton and it hasn't hurt him one bit. With McCain at the head of the ticket, I don't think it's going to hurt the House Republicans one bit either," said John Pappas, a spokesman for Arizona Republican John Shadegg, a McCain supporter, in an interview with

"The reason the Republicans lost so many seats in 1998 was because people were disenchanted with impeachment and with the fact that the federal government passed a huge spending bill. They didn't come out to vote," Pappas added.

In a presidential election year, voter turnout is always higher, "and with John McCain at the top of the ticket - as he's already demonstrated in the primaries - voter turnout promises to be even higher still. That's only going to help the Republicans, not hurt them," Pappas said.

Bulging Democratic coffers don't impress McCain's supporters in the House, where support for the insurgent candidacy is reportedly growing.

But McCain critics contend the senator's campaign is getting an unfair boost from a liberal media corps. They point out that Lindsey Graham's efforts did little to help McCain in the South Carolina primary, where front-runner Bush handily beat the senator in a large conservative turnout.

Jim Farwell, a Republican strategist and media consultant, said members of Congress ultimately are not likely to put much weight on who heads the ticket.

"The House races usually are decided on a much more individualized basis and not a national one. The success McCain is having in the Republican primaries is not with Republican votes. A lot of the Democrats that are voting in the primaries for McCain are not going to vote for him in November, so I think that's very deceptive," Farwell told

Other Republican Party veterans agreed.

"John McCain is making a valiant effort and he's a complete breath of fresh air in the Republican Party, but in the end I think George Bush will have superior resources to win the nomination," said Rich Bond, a former Republican national chairman, in an interview with

"If McCain is going to be the nominee, putting together a new McCain majority, then that might be a better model for them if that's what occurs. But I think the Republican House would prefer to see an establishment figure like George Bush on the ticket," Bond said.

Farwell, a Bush supporter, said the delegate count at the GOP convention in July in favor of Bush as opposed to McCain would not even be close. "I don't see any problem ultimately for George Bush being nominated. The Democrats haven't started on McCain's record and the polls don't reflect that yet. And once somebody starts to expose that record, they're going to find his appeal will diminish."

"In Michigan the big winner was the media, because they got themselves a contest to cover," Farwell said. phone calls to the National Republican Congressional Committee for comment on how McCain as the nominee would affect its House races were not returned.