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The Ghost Of John McCain At CPAC

The Ghost Of John McCain At CPACHad Senator John McCain been walking the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this week, he might have winced to hear his name taken in vain — over and over again.

But Mr. McCain wasn’t anywhere to be found. In fact, he wasn’t even invited.

Never a darling of the conservative movement, Mr. McCain appeared at last year’s conference as the candidate on the verge of capturing his party’s presidential nomination. The audience hurled boos his way when he mentioned his past positions on immigration policy.

Conservatives had disliked him, in part because of his stance on campaign finance laws. When he spoke last year, he said: “We have had a few disagreements, and none of us will pretend that we won’t continue to have a few. But even in disagreement, especially in disagreement, I will seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives.”

This year, the Arizona senator, was also roundly criticized — in absentia.

“I am a recovering McCain surrogate,” Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, acknowledged during a panel on Friday. He spoke, in an almost confessional way, of how he traveled from city to city to campaign for the party’s standard-bearer.

On Thursday Mike Huckabee scolded Mr. McCain for voting for the Bush administration’s bailout bill last fall, saying that the Republican nominee “meekly” lined up behind Barack Obama to support it.

“That,” Mr. Huckabee said, “was not our best moment.”

A spokesman for the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ian Walters, said that the group decided not to send Mr. McCain an invitation to appear at the three-day event, which wraps up on Saturday.

In fact, Mr. Walters said that he could not recall the senator’s name coming up in any of the planning meetings for the conference. Notably, those meetings started in September, after Mr. McCain tapped Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to join the Republican ticket, a choice that energized the conservative base.

Still, the shadow of the 2008 presidential race loomed over the conference on Friday as the audience greeted former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with a standing ovation. (It was at last year’s event that Mr. Romney ended his bid for the Republican nomination.)

“Some critics speak as if we need to redefine conservatism. I think that misses the mark,” Mr. Romney said. “America’s challenges are different from year to year, but our defining principles remain the same. Conservatives don’t enter each new political era trying to figure out what we believe.”

And, Mr. Romney left no doubts on Friday about his desire to remain a player in the Republican Party, and one more palatable to conservatives than Mr. McCain. He urged those in the room not to “dwell on the battles we’ve lost.”

Rather, Mr. Romney said, “we are here to get ready for the battles we’re going to win.”

Tomorrow, the conference features Rush Limbaugh in the late afternoon as its keynote speaker.

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