WASHINGTON — After courting traditionally Democratic voters, Republican John McCain will tend to his conservative roots for a new round of voter outreach.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has scheduled speeches on judges and gun rights — two issues that have fueled the success of conservative candidates going back to Ronald Reagan.
Some conservatives have voiced suspicion of McCain, from author Ann Coulter to delegates attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Complaints range from the Arizona senator's support of campaign-finance overhaul to compromising with Senate Democrats on judicial nominations.
McCain strategist Charles Black said the rank-and-file is with McCain because "he's been conservative the whole campaign."
On Tuesday, as Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battle in North Carolina's primary, McCain will discuss judicial nominations in the Tar Heel state. He also has agreed to speak in mid-May at the National Rifle Association convention in Louisville.
Last month, McCain sought votes in industrial Ohio and among blacks in Alabama.
Even though McCain had the Republican nomination locked up, 27% of Pennsylvania Republicans still voted against him in last week's primary. Texas Rep. Ron Paul took 16% of the GOP vote and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a social conservative, got 11%.
Michael Gaynor, a New York lawyer who blogs for several conservative websites, attributed some of the unease about McCain to the senator's membership in the so-called "Gang of 14." That bipartisan group of senators worked out a 2005 deal with the White House on conservative appeals court nominees who had been blocked by Senate Democrats.
McCain and other Republicans in the group said the deal paved the way for confirmation of three conservative jurists. Two other nominees never got a vote, though, critics noted. "I think there's an obligation under the Constitution to give any judicial nominee an up or down vote," Gaynor said.
Theodore Olson, who heads McCain's judicial advisory committee, said legal-minded conservatives should be more than comfortable with McCain. He noted that the McCain repeatedly invokes the names of President Bush's two Supreme Court appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.
On his website, McCain says he would nominate jurists who "faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat."
Nan Aron, who has opposed many Bush judicial nominees as president of the Alliance For Justice, said McCain's emphasis on judges is a way to establish his "bona fides with the extreme wing of the Republican Party." She notes the judiciary has sway over many issues that animate conservatives, such as guns, affirmative action, school prayer and abortion.
The National Rifle Association has opposed McCain on campaign-finance legislation, particularly restrictions on issue advertising that were later struck down by the Supreme Court. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's chief executive officer, said he also opposed a McCain plan for background checks at gun shows, arguing "red tape" would have shut down all such shows.
Otherwise, the NRA has given McCain high marks, LaPierre said, adding that McCain is the only presidential candidate "with a pro-Second Amendment record of any kind."
The ongoing Democratic race is probably helping McCain with conservatives, said Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform. Norquist said conservatives will rally around McCain to win in November.
"With every day," he said, "the discomfort level with McCain drops."