[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/02/12/art.limbaugh.mccain.afp.gi.jpg caption="Limbaugh has been highly critical of McCain, but on Tuesday the talk show host said he is actually doing the Arizona senator a favor."](CNN) - He's aggressively targeted John McCain ever since the Arizona senator began his meteoric rise in the polls, but conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said Tuesday he may actually be the Arizona senator's "most valuable asset."
Commenting on the mainstream media's fixation with his feelings about McCain, Limbaugh said there may be more to his criticisms than meets the eye.
"If I really wanted to torpedo McCain, I would endorse him," Limbaugh said on his radio show. "Because that would send the independents and liberals who are going to vote for him running away faster than anything."
"What people don't realize is that I am doing McCain the biggest favor that can be done for him by staying out of this," he continued. "If I endorsed him thoroughly and with passion, that would end the independents and moderates, because they so despise me and they so hate me."
Limbaugh, along with several other prominent conservative radio hosts, have long spoken out against the Arizona senator over his stances on a range of issues and his history of working with Democrats on issues such as immigration and campaign finance reform.
Limbaugh's attacks in particular got so heated that former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole wrote the talk-show host last week defending McCain - calling him a "mainstream conservative" who supported the party on critical votes during Dole's time as the Senate Republican leader."
Limbaugh later said of the letter that McCain was "manipulating" Dole.
Yet despite the fiery rhetoric, Limbaugh on Monday suggested members of the media weren't digging deep enough into his comments.
"Couldn't it be said, if somebody wanted to…that I am secretly supporting McCain, because I secretly do want him to win, but I know full well that if I come out and endorse him, he's cooked?" Limbaugh asked. "Who may be in this whole kit and caboodle, this who shebang, the most valuable asset McCain has?"
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney