[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/02/04/art.dole.gi.jpg caption="Dole is defending McCain's conservative credentials."]BOSTON (CNN) - Former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole on Monday wrote conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh defending John McCain as a "mainstream conservative" who had supported the party on critical votes during Dole's time as the Senate Republican leader.
The letter, obtained by CNN from a Republican source close to Dole, includes a voting comparison that suggests McCain's voting record compares favorably to that of the longtime conservative icon Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Dole in the letter said he remains neutral in the GOP contest and spoke kindly of all three remaining leading GOP candidates. But the letter comes at a time Limbaugh is trying to rally grassroots conservative support against McCain.
"Whoever wins the Republican nomination will need your enthusiastic support," Dole wrote in the letter. "Two terms for the Clintons are enough."
–CNN Chief National Correspondent John King
(full text of the letter follows after the jump)
I have not seen you in a long time but I do hear you frequently and I know that you have serious reservations about Senator McCain.
Not that many care but I have not been involved in the Republican Primary contest because Elizabeth, a good conservative, is running for reelection in North Carolina where Romney, McCain and Huckabee each enjoy considerable support.
I was the Republican Leader from January 1985 until I left the Senate voluntarily in June 1996. I worked closely with Senator McCain when he came to the Senate in 1987 until I departed. I cannot recall a single instance when he did not support the Party on critical votes. (At my age, I cannot be entirely certain but here are a few key conservative examples:)
1. Consistent pro-life record
2. Strong advocate for strict constructionist judges (We were misled on the Souter nomination)
3. Supported voluntary school prayer
4. Supported Constitutional Amendment for a Balanced Budget (needed two-thirds and lost by one vote - 66-34)
5. Strong advocate for reducing spending and opposing pork barrel "ear marks" which has, I might add, angered some of his colleagues
6. Consistent on defending Second Amendment rights
7. Opposed "Hillary Care" which would have been devastating
8. Probably the Senate's strongest advocate for strong national defense
9. Of course he has cast many votes since I left. I totally disagreed with the McCain-Feingold legislation. On immigration, Senator McCain was not in the Senate when Congress passed President Reagan's immigration legislation which passed overwhelmingly. It granted amnesty to 2.7 million illegals. It was not much different than the 2007 McCain, Kennedy, Bush effort.
I disagree with his votes against the Bush tax cuts but I believe his pledge to make them permanent and I do not agree that Governor Romney ever suggested a timetable for troop withdrawals in Iraq.
McCain is a friend and I proudly wore his P.O.W. bracelet bearing his name while he was still a guest at the "Hanoi Hilton." I believe our major candidates are mainstream conservatives and that our nominee will address our concerns by keeping taxes low, reducing corporate taxes, protecting and assisting the vulnerable, strengthening our traditional values, and above all, keeping America strong militarily, whatever the cost.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination will need your enthusiastic support. Two terms for the Clintons are enough.
Gob Bless America,
P.S. Rush, I just came across a document from the Senate Library which shows Presidential Support scores. Let me give you ratings for "Mr. Conservative" Senator Helms through 2002 (Helms retired in January 2003) and Senator McCain through 2004.