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It has reason to. Of Republicans in the Senate, only Rhode Island's quirky Lincoln Chafee has voted against as many of Bush's tax cuts. (Both opposed 4 out of 5.) Recently, McCain has given conservatives more reason to be steamed: just when they thought they were within inches of ending the use of a filibuster to block judicial nominations, he put together a bipartisan coalition of 14 Senators that foiled their long-term design, even though it ensured that three of Bush's controversial court choices would go through."When I give speeches and talk about [New York Senators Charles] Schumer and Clinton, and McCain, the biggest boos and moans are for McCain," says influential G.O.P. activist Grover Norquist, a longtime adversary.
McCain's advisers acknowledge that McCain is unlikely to prevail if the party establishment coalesces around a single figure, as it did in 2000. And there will be plenty who are offering to play that role, Norquist notes. "Does [Virginia Senator] George Allen become the consensus conservative candidate early? That's certainly what his hope would be. And Jeb Bush, if he steps in, clears the field."
No one would know better than McCain and Clinton how many uncertainties and treacheries lie ahead and how important it is to keep their own options open as long as they can. That's why, after Weinstein's exuberant introduction, Clinton was happy to let McCain venture towards the stage first. "After you," she whispered. "After you."