TODAY, The Sun departs from its recent practice of not endorsing in presidential contests.
The Suns present leadership believes that we have an obligation to offer guidance in all significant elections, including the presidential election. Thats not to say we overestimate our impact; voters have too wide a range of sources of information and commentary for the role of newspapers in electoral politics -- especially at the presidential level -- not to have changed.
Whether readers heed our advice is up to them. This newspapers candidate recommendations arent about picking winners. We tell you what we think should happen rather than try to predict the outcome of elections.
So, what follows are our judgments on the qualifications of the candidates seeking the major parties presidential nominations on March 7 in Maryland.
McCain for Republicans
Trust and character are central issues in the election of our nations president for the next four years, a legacy of the turmoil of the Clinton years that overshadows various shades of policy issue difference.
Leadership is dependent upon the public trust. Leadership must transcend rigid party lines and platforms, hewing to fundamental principles while open to effective compromise. The nation in these times demands a centrist leader, not a spokesman for either end of the political spectrum.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN of Arizona is the Republican candidate who best represents and embraces these values. He offers a strong chance to rebuild the nation and transform an increasingly right-wing GOP. He deserves the vote of Republicans and independents in Marylands March 7 primary.
Mr. McCain has served 17 years in Congress, elected three times as senator. Hes chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce and Telecommunications Committee.
A Navy fighter pilot who spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and the son and grandson of Navy admirals, Mr. McCain has exhibited exceptional leadership and strength of character.
Yet hes no puppet candidate of the military establishment: While supporting a strong national defense system, hed trim spending on expensive new weaponry, while improving treatment of military personnel. Mr. McCain has clashed with the top brass on banning land mines and with voters facing the loss of a redundant New Hampshire shipyard; hes for both decisions.
Campaign finance reform, tobacco regulation and cutting pork barrel spending are his cornerstone policy issues, stands that have distanced him from many colleagues in Congress.
He wants to limit the huge soft money contributions of the wealthy, big labor and big business in elections. Mr. McCain is no darling of the congressional establishment. He bluntly criticizes fellow legislators and shows little respect for the conventions of seniority.
That straight-talking attitude is said by critics to reflect a dangerous temper. Yet he has worked, and compromised, with colleagues to win passage of legislation. Military people say he was often open to other ideas, even in that rigid command-obey structure.
He may be a reformer, but he is not a radical. In truth, the senator embraces many of the planks of the Republican platform and is correctly termed a Western conservative. Hes firmly opposed to abortion and gun control, favors less government regulation and spending, gets high marks from the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.
However, he would limit income tax cuts and use the federal surplus to cut the publics $3 trillion debt and bolster Social Security and Medicare. These positions have found popular support in early primaries.
His grasp of foreign affairs, from Kosovo to Cuba to China is exceptional.
With an openness that does not hint of arrogance, Mr. McCain has emerged in this campaign as a plain-speaking populist and an effective foil to the distant, traditional Republican establishment typified by his principal opponent, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.
With only one-fourth of the $70 million war chest raised by the former presidents son, Mr. McCain has conducted an aggressive campaign that has energized voters with his personality and an independence that is seemingly beholden to no special interests.
He has invariably taken the underdogs role in states with Republican governors, who were solidly and early committed to Mr. Bush. But his campaign has gained staying power through grass-roots appeal, and his appeal to a diverse electorate provides new hope for a transformed Republican Party in the post-Clinton, post-Gingrich era.
Despite his campaign reform stance, Mr. McCain is vulnerable to criticism that hes used corporate jets and accepted the hospitality of businesses that are regulated by measures before his Senate commerce committee.
Yet theres little evidence he has abused the chairmanship for blatant political favor.