John McCain has a new challenge ahead. As President Bush and congressional leaders of both major parties move toward enacting an economic stimulus package, the Arizona senator will have to decide whether to support a rebate for individual taxpayers, which is likely to be in the final legislation.
McCain has expressed skepticism about such a concept because he doubts rebates would do much to help the economy over the long term, his backers say. McCain prefers to emphasize more tax breaks for business, deep spending cuts, and other, more targeted approaches. He is likely to be pressed on this issue in tonight's Republican presidential debate in Florida, which holds a crucial primary next Tuesday.
Other GOP candidates face the same series of questions on the stimulus bill, but it is only McCain of all the top-tier candidates who, as a sitting senator, will actually have to vote on it. If he opposes a stimulus package, he might curry favor with the economic conservatives, but such a vote might alienate everyday Americans who want a rebate.
"He could have an enormous problem in the general election," says a veteran Democratic strategist.
—Kenneth T. Walsh