CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has chosen former Ohio U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine to run his campaign in the Buckeye State, got clobbered in an annual straw poll that takes place during a Republican club pancake breakfast in suburban Cincinnati. Rudy Giuliani came in first, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney tied for second, and McCain finished third.
Giuliani received 33.75% of the votes cast at the event, which was like a caucus.
The vote was at the Northwest Hamilton County Republican Club, in an area of Ohio that is diehard GOP. Eighty Republicans took part in the poll and all were activists or party workers. They humbled McCain, who received 10 votes. On a cold, chilly day, the the gathering had the flavor of an Iowa caucus, though months before Iowa has its caucuses. McCain barely had more supporters than Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback -- so far a non-entity who doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Yet Brownback wound up breathing down McCain's neck.
McCain was in Cincinnati the day before the straw poll, but kept a low profile and met with GOP heavyweights to raise money. Then he skipped the Saturday Senate vote on Iraq, opening himself to heavy CRITICISM from national Democrats. McCain headed to Iowa, where he campaigned and said the Senate vote wasn't really important important. The Democrats issued this statement:
"It's not called the Bush-McCain Iraq war escalation plan for nothing,"said Democratic National Committee spokesman Luis Miranda. "McCain's refusal to show up for a vote on his own Iraq plan doesn't bode well for his presidential ambitions. While conservatives still don't trust him,McCain's decision to campaign instead of vote offers the American people an unflattering glimpse at an establishment candidate who will do anything to win the Republican primary."
Giuliani leads the GOP field in most national polls, though he's not in step with Ohio conservatives on gay rights or abortion. But he is viewed as a competent leader, and his name recognition is off the charts. Some dismiss the straw poll Saturday as merely a beauty contest, but the people dissing it are the ones who got ugly results. Hamilton County is the seat of social conservatism in Ohio -- the home of Phil Burress' Citizens for Community Values, the birthplace of National Right-to-Life, the home of former GOP Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the state's most outspoken conservative leader. Giuliani had deep support in the activist crowd, and it's a sign he has political muscle in unexpected places, and it demonstrates McCain's weakness at the moment.
And plenty of Cincinnati Republicans heard that McCain skipped the Senate vote -- they wanted him there on the job. HERE's the Cincinnati Enquirer's version of the story written by a freelance reporter. The headline is what sticks out: "Giuliani Favorite of Local GOP Club."