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GOP State Convention: 'We need to get behind' McCain

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- State Republican activists say they are ready to support their likely presidential nominee, John McCain, even as some admit they were slow to do so.

"He is the best we have and we need to get behind him," said Kath Molitor, a Beltrami County Republican Party official and delegate to the GOP's state convention that ended Saturday.

Molitor was typical of Republicans who earlier supported other candidates, but now are coalescing behind McCain, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other state Republican leaders urged of them during the two-day convention.

There are reasons to be excited about the Arizona senator's bid, Molitor decided.

"McCain has a steadfast ability to just follow through and become a victor," she said.

Democrats this year are attempting to paint a McCain presidency as mirroring the eight-year Bush administration.

In 2006, Republicans took a hit at the polls, due in part of low ratings of President Bush. His ratings are lower now, but that did not make convention delegates uncomfortable heading into the 2008 election.

"The election is not about Bush this year," Corey Elmer of Moorhead said.

Some delegates to the state GOP convention said McCain offers a combination of traits Minnesotans want in their president.

"People are looking for opportunity, hope and experience," Elmer said.

Former state lawmaker C. Wendell Erickson said McCain was not his first preference for president.

"I'm supporting him at this point," said Erickson of Rock County. "I think he's probably got as good a chance as any."

Erickson said he appreciates McCain's military background because his son is serving in Iraq. He said McCain will attract political moderates and even some Democrats.

"I think if they look at the alternatives on the other side, I think that they'll support McCain," he said.

Roseau County overwhelmingly backed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the precinct caucuses earlier this year, but county GOP Chairman Chris Hamness said supporters of the former Arkansas governor will have no problem going with McCain.

"They are united very much so," Hamness said.

Although there were disagreements, he added, Republicans have been respectful of all candidates.

Molitor, who lives near Bemidji, said the GOP is attracting young and first-time voters this year.

Republicans have missed opportunities to pick up young voters, Pawlenty said, but McCain, 71, will do just as well as any Republican.

To reach out to young and atypical Republican voters, McCain has appeared on the MTV cable network and Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."

"In the forums where he goes where young people watch, he actually does well among young people," said Pawlenty, McCain's national campaign co-chairman.

Another delegate, Ted Lovdahl of Itasca County, said Republicans may disagree with McCain on particular issues, but that is no reason to abandon him.

"Just because you don't agree on all the issues doesn't mean he's not a good man," Lovdahl said.

The northern Minnesota Republican said he believes McCain is "ready to go" because of his experience with international issues.

Mark Hintermeyer of Moorhead said western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District should line up behind McCain.

"You will have full support for McCain," said Hintermeyer, a Moorhead City Council member.

Some of the party's more conservative members may not fully agree with everything McCain says, but Hintermeyer said they have no better choice on the ballot and will turn out for the Arizona senator.

Many Democrats could cross the ballot and vote for McCain, GOP leaders say.

"I've heard a lot of Democrats" who refuse to vote to expected Democratic candidate Barack Obama, Hintermeyer said. A small percentage of Democrats voting for McCain could make the difference in this year's campaign, he added.

Hintermeyer said he doesn't know what to make of the Democrats' willingness to change. "It seems to be somewhat new."

Rollie Nissen, co-chairman of the Kandiyohi County GOP, said he knows of many Democrats who strongly support either Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton and may not be able to back the other. "I don't know if they will all pull together."

Carlton County delegate Tony Sheda said many Republicans are not thrilled with a McCain presidential candidacy. But Sheda worries about the party's fate if long-shot GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul continues his campaign but as an independent.

"Then we're going to fracture," Sheda said.

It is important to have a strong presidential candidate, said Elmer, the Moorhead delegate.

"It does drive turnout," he said, and McCain will attract more Republicans to the polls.

Scott Wente and Don Davis work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.