The cause is the action of the Michigan Republican Convention in severely shortchanging McCain stalwarts in the allocation of delegates from the state to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia this summer. Although Senator McCain won 52 of the 58 delegates at stake in the Michigan primary he won in March, only about 15 true-blue McCainites were named as delegates.
Senator McCain will get 52 votes on the first ballot in Philadelphia under the rules, but most of them will be cast by Bush supporters, including state party chairman Rusty Hills, who calls the controversy totally inside baseball and a tempest in a teapot. But McCain strategists in Washington don't see it that way and apparently neither does the senator himself.
Senator McCain last weekend was to attend the state convention, meet with Gov. John Engler, who led the losing Bush effort in the state's presidential primary, and campaign for two Republican congressional candidates. But weather and, apparently, bad feelings scrubbed the plans.
Senator McCain's political aides were particularly put out by the fact that John Nevin, the campaign manager for one of the GOP congressional candidates, Mike Rogers, was the man who nominated Mr. Hills to be one of the McCain-pledged delegates. Mr. Nevin is the Ingham County Republican chairman and defends his action on personal grounds, noting that Mr. Hill "is my best friendand was my best man at my wedding."
Todd Harris, spokesman for Senator McCain's Straight Talk Political Action Committee that is bankrolling his post-primaries travels in behalf of Republican candidates, says if Mr. Nevin did nominate Mr. Hills as a McCain delegate, the senator won't be campaigning any time soon for Mr. Rogers. Senator McCain's staff also does not look kindly on a quote from Governor Bush's chief strategist, Karl Rove, in this week's New York Times Magazine referring to Rick Davis, McCain primary campaign manager, as the consummate inside-D.C. thug. Prior to the article's appearance, Mr. Davis was named as part of a special group of post-primary advisers to the Bush campaign.
Mr. Harris says a state of Cold War exists now between the Bush and McCain camps. He says the Bush forces asked in advance of the Pittsburgh summit for endorsement and enthusiasm. They got the endorsement but the Michigan delegate allocation indicates the level of enthusiasm they will get.
State Sen. Joe Schwarz, who chaired the McCain primary campaign in Michigan, says an agreement forged with Governor Engler and Mr. Hills to allocate 46 delegate slots to McCain activists during the primary fell through at the Bush-dominated state convention when attendees caucused and, in effect, threw out the agreement. Senator Schwarz says Governor Engler wasn't to blame because Michigan GOP conventions have a history of contrariness. In 1998, for example, Governor Engler's personal choice for attorney general was rejected.
Mr. Schwarz says bona fide McCain activists have been assured of three of Michigan's four seats on the national convention rules and credentials committees and will be supporting whatever positions Senator McCain chooses, including backing for a platform plank on campaign finance reform to his liking. Governor Engler says he has offered to give up his own slot at the national convention and expresses confidence that the spat will be smoothed over by August.
Although Senator McCain's success in winning Michigan independents and Democrats was hailed at the time as a party broadener, many Republican regulars at the state convention saw no reason these newcomers should be rewarded with seats at the national convention. Mr. Nevin says these McCain supporters are welcome in the party but it doesn't mean they're entitled to go to the convention over others who have spent years in the trenches working for the party.
With Governor Bush's nomination already assured, the dust-up in Michigan means little in terms of outcome. But it is not the kind of signal the party needs to be sending to entice those voters who flirted with the Republican Party through Senator McCain's candidacy to consider a longer term commitment.
Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from The Sun's Washington Bureau.