McCAIN to remain Republican, no White House bid planned

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEDONA, Ariz. (AP) _ Before a closely watched weekend get-together with the Senate Democratic leader, GOP Sen. John McCain declared Saturday he has no intention of bolting the Republican Party or running for president in 2004.

The meeting with South Dakota's Tom Daschle at McCain's 13-acre ranch in Arizona's scenic red rock country comes amid speculation McCain might be considering a third-party challenge to President Bush. Only late last month, McCain chastised GOP leaders for being too rigid and immature.

``I have not instructed nor encouraged any of my advisers to begin planning for a presidential run in 2004. I have not discussed running for president with anyone,'' McCain said in a statement.

``As I have said repeatedly, I have no intention of running for president, nor do I have any intention of or cause to leave the Republican Party. I hope this will put an end to further speculation on this subject.''

The Washington Post, quoting unidentified sources close to McCain, reported Saturday that the senator is talking with advisers about leaving the Republican Party and mounting a third-party challenge to Bush.

While such a move is not imminent, the report said McCain will work to build a centrist faction within the GOP to mirror the moderate ``New Democrats.''

The meeting with Daschle, who takes over as Senate majority leader this week, is a ``purely social visit'' and was arranged months ago, McCain's spokeswoman said.

The lawmakers and their wives were to be joined by Bruce Reed, a senior domestic policy adviser in the Clinton White House who is now with the Democratic Leadership Conference, an organization of moderate Democrats.

``There will be no policy discussion,'' said Nancy Ives, McCain's spokeswoman.

It was not clear by Saturday afternoon whether McCain or Daschle had arrived at the ranch. A man in a truck directed a reporter and photographer to the edge of McCain's property.

Nine people stood along the gravel road, protesting what they said was McCain's abandonment of conservative ideals. One carried a sign saying ``McBorg: Has Been Assimilated,'' a reference to the Borg, a collective of single-minded, colonizing drones featured in the latest ``Star Trek'' television shows and movies.

Due to the defection of Vermont Sen. James Jeffords from the GOP, Daschle is replacing Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi as majority leader as Democrats take control of the Senate for the first time since 1994.

Jeffords stunned the Bush administration and the GOP when he announced last month that he would become an independent this week but would side with Democrats on organizational issues.

Daschle has said he also had approached McCain in the past several weeks about leaving the Republican Party.

McCain, who ran against Bush in the GOP primaries last year and was one of only two Republicans in Congress to vote against his tax cut, used Jeffords' defection to lash out against the White House and party leaders.

``It is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up,'' McCain said. ``If you're going to threaten retaliation, revenge and punishment to people because they don't vote exactly how you want them to, you're going to pay a price.''

McCain also has sided with Democrats on patients' rights and other issues and, with sweeping support from them, succeeded earlier this year in pushing a campaign finance bill through the Senate over objections from Bush and GOP leaders.