Republican John McCain says he will try to win over some conservative Republicans by promising to appoint judges in the mold of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
McCain said he has a history of praising both men and that he expects to emphasize that record when he addresses a major gathering of conservatives in Washington later this week. He said he hasn't given it much thought yet because he is campaigning across the country in states that vote in the virtual national primary on Tuesday.
"I've praised both of them," the Arizona senator told reporters on his campaign bus Saturday.
He said he didn't remember saying, as some conservatives have alleged, that Alito "wore his conservatism on his sleeve."
"I may have said something that I don't recall, but the fact is that I have a clear record, both publicly and privately, of saying Alito and Roberts are what we want on the Supreme Court," McCain said.
McCain has been trying to reach out to the right wing of the GOP base who have mistrusted him for years and, in addition to his address next week, is running a national cable ad proclaiming he is a true conservative.
Some conservatives dislike McCain because he has worked to limit money in politics, efforts that critics believe are a violation of free speech, and because he has supported a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
But McCain can make inroads by focusing on judges, said conservative GOP consultant Keith Apple.
"I think that is probably the best issue he could address, in order to assure those conservatives who have wavered about him," Appeal said. "And if he gives a speech that emphasizes picking judges like Alito and Roberts, that will go a long way."
In addition, it helps that McCain has secured endorsements from conservatives such as Ted Olson, a high-profile stalwart of the conservative legal movement.
He needs to try to soothe concerns about immigration, Appeal said. McCain talks tougher about the issue these days, saying he understands that people want the border sealed before the immigration system can be reformed.
"He needs to demonstrate that he has heard the message from the grass roots; I take him at his word for that, but he needs to be specific with regards to how he received the message," Appell said. "You have to do more than just seal the border. Even Democrats will seal the border."