So frustrated are many conservatives with McCain that there is even talk – led by well-known conservative columnist Ann Coulter – of playing the role of "suicide voter" and casting ballots for either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama in November. Ideological purity trumps political victory, the thinking goes.
The depth of McCain's troubles showed up here at the recent 35th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, attended by 6,880 activists, officeholders, and students. A survey of nearly 1,600 attendees found that 70 percent would back the McCain ticket, but 10 percent would not vote at all in the presidential race, and 19 percent would vote for someone else.
All this might seem odd to the casual observer. But anyone who has followed McCain's career in the United States Senate has seen his propensity to irritate the conservative base. It's not just his reputation for being hotheaded. It's his stand on issues that often seem more Democratic than Republican.
"He's not a Republican," says Joe Wanninger, a claims adjuster from Cincinnati, who attended the CPAC meeting here. "I agree with McCain on the war," says Mr. Wanninger, "but that's the only thing I can think of." Even so, Wanninger says he will vote for McCain in the fall. Do anything else, he says, "and you throw the troops overboard."