WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP – After naming a slew of Arizona natives who have tried and failed to be elected president, Sen. John McCain began his keynote speech at the third annual Ronald Reagan Memorial Dinner with these words: Arizona might be the only state where mothers don’t tell their children they can be president.
The guests, who paid $150 to attend the event and support the 9th and 11th congressional district Republican parties, laughed.
But if McCain doesn’t catch up with Rudy Giuliani in the polls and Mitt Romney in fundraising, he may end up being just one more name on that list.
A Gallup poll conducted April 2-5 found that just 16 percent of the Republicans across the country surveyed favored McCain. He trailed Giuliani by 22 percent and had the least support of any major Republican candidate in Gallup polling of likely Republican voters since the firm started tracking the 2008 race in November.
McCain was the top choice in a March poll of Michigan Republicans with the support of 30 percent of respondents, but Romney has deep roots in the state.
Romney’s father was governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969.
McCain was speaking yesterday just miles from Romney’s boyhood home of Bloomfield Hills. Republican Congressman Joe Knollenberg, who represents the 9th District and was at last night’s event, has endorsed Romney. McCain does have some high-profile support in Michigan, though. Attorney General Mike Cox is his state campaign chair.
Romney was trailing in March with the support of 21 percent of surveyed Republicans statewide.
But Romney’s fundraising far exceeds Giuliani’s and McCain’s. He raised $23 million in the first quarter, which includes the $2.35 million the former venture capitalist has contributed to his own campaign. Giuliani raised $15 million, despite jumping into the race later than McCain and Romney. McCain lags behind both candidates in fundraising, having collected only $12.5 million. Early campaign contributions are a crucial part of running increasingly expensive primary campaigns.
Dan Carleton, chairman of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, a statewide College Republican umbrella group, said McCain’s persona would keep his campaign strong.
“I’ve never worked with a campaign that is so engaged with the youth,” Carleton said. “Senator McCain is so open to working with the College Republicans.”
Twenty-eight volunteers from the University’s chapter of the College Republicans attended the dinner. They received complimentary dinners in exchange for volunteering at the event.
LSA junior Justin Zatkoff, the chairman-elect of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, endorsed McCain in March.
Zatkoff said he plans to mobilize young Republicans in the state to support McCain in the primary election.
States are still finalizing their primary calendars, but one thing is certain: The nominating contests will take place much earlier this year than they have in the past as states race to hold their primaries earlier in hopes of having a larger say in who becomes the 2008 nominees.
Feb. 5, 2008 will be a decisive day for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Up to 20 states, possibly including Michigan, will hold their primary on that day.
The Michigan primary will likely be a closed election, which means that McCain will lack the support of the many Democrats who voted for him in the 2000 Republican primary.
McCain spent 15 minutes of his 25-minute speech telling jokes and the remaining 10 discussing his platform.
His cell phone rang during his speech, but he said he only would have answered it if it were his wife calling.
McCain briefly talked about his hopes for immigration reform and pork barrel spending, but his defense of his Iraq policy dominated his speech.
Even though he said the war in Iraq has been long, terrible and sad, he reiterated his call for more troops in Iraq during his speech.
“It’s not Iraq that they (the terrorists) want, it’s us,” McCain said. “If we leave Iraq at a specified date of withdrawal, they will follow us home.”
His speech fell on the same day that a suicide bomber struck the Iraqi Parliament in Baghdad, killing eight.
Polls show that most Americans now oppose the war in Iraq.
But even though his support of the war may hurt him in the general election, he stressed the importance of continuing the fight.
“There’s no importance associated with our political ambitions when there are men and women out there fighting and making sacrifices,” McCain said.
Last night’s stop at Shenandoah Country Club was the first on a two-day McCain swing through the state that also includes stops in Holland and Kalamazoo.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.