The reservations and skepticism of conservatives over a John McCain candidacy continued today, as attendees at the CPAC conference again booed him and a fellow member of Congress raised concerns over his nomination.
Speaking to a half-filled ballroom, Rep. Mike Pence, a GOP stalwart from Indiana, implored McCain to take on the conservative mantle both in his politics and personality.
"If you will continue to run on conservative issues and continue to build a solid conservative team and ticket, we can and will support you," said Pence. "You've claimed the Reagan mantle. Show us you know how to use it."
But the crowd seemed unimpressed. The mere mention of McCain's name elicited a round of howls from the attendees, compared to the standing ovation that occurred when Mitt Romney's recently-ended candidacy was evoked. Pence acknowledged the crowd's displeasure and offered a proverbial cheat sheet for McCain to win their hearts.
We know you hear us, and that you need this movement to win in the November. The sentiments you expressed from this podium are a very welcome start... They were positions that we all hold dear. But you know that the conservative base is divided and reluctant support from the base from the party won't be enough... You need enthusiasm, foot-stomping, flag-waving enthusiasm, the kind we had for Reagan. And Senator McCain, as much as it would please you to have that kind of enthusiasm for conservatives it would please conservatives even more to have reason to give it....
Pence's address came a day after McCain himself took the podium at CPAC. Organizers had urged the crowd yesterday to remain cordial to the Arizona Republican, who spoke after Romney announced his resignation from the race. And while McCain did receive positive reviews for his speech, he was nevertheless booed when the topic turned to his tryst with immigration reform: a widely unpopular position among conservatives.
Pence, too, brought up a few policy issues in which he and McCain did not see eye-to-eye -- campaign finance reform and climate change, to name a few -- though he never mentioned the Senator by name. But he seemed willing to forgo these disagreements for the sake of party unity.
"Let me be clear: I did not endorse the Senator from Arizona. We have clashed on the issues too many times for that," said the Congressman. "Based on what I have personally seen from John McCain on the floor of the Congress... I could support John McCain for President of the United States. But he's going to have to take a little advice from a friend."