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Republicans look beyond embattled Bush to '08 hopefuls

Associated Press
Published March 11, 2006


MEMPHIS - Restless Republicans are already looking beyond the embattled Bush presidency to the 2008 campaign.

Nearly 2,000 GOP activists opened a weekend conference Friday to hear from presidential prospects and share strategies on a conservative agenda that many believe Washington has forsaken.

The delegates were voting in an informal "straw poll" to test the popularity of White House hopefuls including those in attendance - Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. George Allen of Virginia, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

But the balloting is not expected to have a lasting impact unless Frist, who has packed the Southern Republican Leadership Conference with supporters, hurts his presidential aspirations with a poor showing.

McCain planned to urge his backers to write in President Bush's name as a show of support, a move that could further dilute the straw poll's significance.

The dynamic to watch is how far the speakers and conference attendees distance themselves from Bush or the Republican-led Congress while urging the party to return to its conservative values.

"A big problem with our base is our spending," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is sometimes mentioned as a presidential prospect. "My time at this convention will be spent talking about a Republican Party that (GOP activists) are familiar with - a party of controlling the size of government and reforming the government."

Brownback, a favorite of social conservatives, said runaway spending is a problem for Republicans but so is a failure to produce innovative plans on health care, energy, the environment and rebuilding the American family.

"I think people are searching for new ideas on serious problems that move us together rather than apart," he said of GOP activists. "I think they want somebody who can put forward ideas that have a reasonable chance of broad-based support."

McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani are the most popular potential GOP candidates for 2008, according to most polls. Giuliani is not attending this conference.

[Last modified March 11, 2006, 01:44:48]


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