WASHINGTON - In his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain is moving to the right.
The Arizona Republican, who failed to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, is the most visible Republican on television, outside the White House, and seems to never pass up an opportunity to appear on Sunday talk shows.
All this appears to be part of his effort to transform his image as a maverick independent so that he can make his pitch to the conservative Republican base that will vote in the party's primaries and caucuses two years hence.
McCain's focus is on Southern states where he will have to show his dedication to the conservatives who dominate the GOP. He was scheduled to be the main speaker at the Lincoln Day dinner in Lakeland, Fla., on Saturday. Later this spring, he will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University at Lynchburg, Va., the school founded by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell.
Falwell has indicated there are still some bridges to mend with McCain, who had called Falwell "an agent of intolerance" in his first bid for the presidency in 2000.
Although Falwell has not endorsed McCain, he has said that the senator "could be the GOP's best hope" if Sen. Hillary Clinton is nominated to head the Democratic ticket in 2008.
Falwell also says McCain is in the process of "healing the breach with evangelical groups."
Asked to explain his change of attitude toward the evangelist on "Meet the Press" Sunday, McCain said: "I believe that the Christian right has a major role to play in the Republican Party. One reason (that) is so is because they're so active and their followers are. And I believe they have a right to be part of our party."
McCain also has gone out of his way to cozy up to President Bush after their bitter rift in the 2000 presidential campaign. McCain has said he does not look back in anger at old political battles. That's wise -- he's going to need Bush's backing in a presidential bid.
McCain also has taken other stands that should put him in good with Southern conservatives. Hailing from a military family -- his father and grandfather were admirals in the Navy -- he is a strong supporter of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and believes the number of U.S. troops there should be beefed up.
He is against abortion rights and gun-control laws and believes students should be taught the religion-oriented "intelligent design" theory of creation as well as the theory of scientific evolution.
His painful experience as a POW during the Vietnam War led him to buck the White House on the question of using torture to interrogate detainees and prisoners of war. Despite White House opposition, he triumphed with a 90-9 Senate vote on his anti-torture amendment to the defense appropriations bill.
In signing the bill, the president issued a statement that under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, he did not have to abide by the anti-torture amendment. This is a dubious claim of presidential power that should be challenged.
McCain's political record is not entirely pristine. He was a member of the so-called Keating Five -- five senators linked to Charles Keating in the savings and loan scandals in 1991. But a special investigator found that McCain had not been substantially involved in influence peddling but criticized him and three others for "questionable conduct."
That searing experience may explain why McCain has been an avid advocate of campaign finance reform.
With his "hail fellow well met" persona and tendency to jaw with the media and pundits in the back of the campaign bus, he has created the impression in some quarters that he is a "moderate."
Forget it. His voting record speaks for itself.
McCain is working hard to prove his staunch conservative credentials as he woos the far right in his party.
If he wins the presidency, the country can expect a continuation of Bush's aggressive foreign policy and ultra-right domestic programs.