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McCain ready to spend in Arizona

The Associated Press

• He may need to counterattack ads and stave off a strong run by Bush.

The Associated Press

PHOENIX – Presidential hopeful John McCain could be forced to spend precious dollars in his home state to defend himself, a marked digression from his campaign strategy.

Attack ads paid for by independent associations that disagreewith his stance on campaign finance reform could siphon away money he needs elsewhere by forcing him to buy television air time in Arizona.

McCain’s campaign already is airing commercials in New Hampshire and South Carolina to blunt attack ads. Those adverse ads are paid for by independent associations that disagree with his plans to limit socalled ”soft money” contributions from special interest groups to political parties.

If similar attack spots appear in Arizona, McCain will run his same ads here, spokesman Doug Cole said.

”The bottom line is you have to respond,” Cole said. ”They are making our case against soft money for us.”

McCain proudly points out that he has never lost an election in Arizona and insists he will carry the state when it holds its Republican presidential primary Feb. 22. Recent polls have him in a virtual statistical tie with Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Until this point, McCain has said he would not spend a lot of money in Arizona, saving it for states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina.

”We are comfortable with our strategy here in Arizona,” Cole said. ”Our goal is to campaign actively with our grass-roots supporters.”

McCain has exceeded his fundraising goals, but his preparations to buy costly air time in Arizona may signal a vulnerable spot in his campaign plan, University of Virginia political science Professor Larry Sabato said. ”Despite what he says, they must know they have a real race on their hands in their home state.”

McCain has built up his campaign to the point where he is considered Bush’s chief rival for the Republican nomination and even leads much of the recent polling in New Hampshire, site of the nation’s first primary next week.

Back home in Arizona, however, voters have not shown overwhelming allegiance to McCain. Polling results throughout the campaign have shown a close race between McCain and Bush.

Bush has visited the state several times to add to his unprecedented campaign millions, collecting endorsements from Gov. Jane Hull and other prominent Republicans along the way.

Bush also has been airing television ads in Arizona for weeks.

Mike Hull, executive director of Bush’s Arizona campaign, said Bush will not concede the state without a fight.

”It’s a full effort here,” he said. ”Anything we can do to get the word out.”

Bush has raised more than $70 million, enough to campaign wherever he wants. While Bush has nothing to lose by running hard in Arizona, the stakes are high for McCain, Sabato said.

”If Bush is even reasonably close to McCain in McCain’s home state, it will send a very disturbing message to people in the rest of the country,” he said. ”These are the people who know him best.”

In contrast, McCain could win by 20 percentage points and not impress voters elsewhere, Sabato said. ”It’s just plain a loser for McCain. He’ll have to spend money and he’ll have to listen to it (criticism). If he loses, he’ll hear it for years.”

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