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Military culture, pragmatism shape McCain

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While McCain's lifetime ACU rating of 82 percent puts him within the conservative range (defined as 80 or above), that masks his annual scores of the past 10 years, which routinely dipped below 80, sometimes into the 60s. The nonpartisan National Journal magazine, in its member rankings, also found that McCain has moved toward the center since the mid-'90s, when the GOP took control of the Senate. When Mr. Bush became president, having defeated McCain in a contentious nomination battle, hard feelings were evident as McCain voted often against his positions.

McCain's presumptive nomination – made possible only because Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee split the conservative vote – has left some conservatives deeply dissatisfied.

And there's a larger problem: This presidential race will be fought in the center, and so McCain must walk an ideological tightrope, trying to convince the right that he really is conservative – or at least conservative enough – while going after the moderate and independent voters who may be more appreciative of his forays off the Republican reservation.

The McCain record

The senator's voting record shows consistency on some core Republican matters, such as opposition to abortion and support for free trade. He has also been an ardent supporter of the Iraq war from the start, but not always in lock step with how the White House has prosecuted it – for example, pushing early on for more troops than Bush was willing to send.

McCain has been a longtime crusader against earmarks, or "pork," the money legislators slip into bills for special projects in their states and districts.

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