The EFM Feature

EFM flashback: Last year, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference held their big shindig in Memphis. Hotline sponsored a straw poll, which everyone knew would be won by homestate Senator Bill Frist, followed by John McCain, pre-Macaca George Allen, then Arkansan Mike Huckabee, and maybe Mississippi’s Haley Barbour. Rudy would place somewhere in there–being America’s Mayor and all. (But the one person without a seat at the table was Gov. Romney. At the time, very few people south of the Mason Dixon line had heard his name. The photo shows me with pro-life activist and EFMer Nathan Burd after we cast our votes.)
So, we were all a little surprised when we got to Memphis to support Gov. Romney and saw that John McCain had hired people to hand out stickers advocating people vote to elect…George W. Bush.

Everyone was quite perplexed, since President Bush–of course–can’t serve a third term. But McCain’s people stood on the side of the aisles and tried to manipulate people’s affection and loyalty to the President–all to camouflage McCain’s poor showing.
The fact is this: Southerners. Do. Not. Like. McCain. Every single one of them will say, “I really appreciate what he did for America” before adding the inevitable “but…”
In other words, he was going to lose big in the Hotline straw poll, so he decided not to play along.
That afternoon, after five hours of voting and more than 1,400 ballots cast, Sen. Frist (TN) won the Hotline Straw Poll, followed by Yankee Gov. Mitt Romney, and then George Allen who was tied for third place with Pres. Bush. I’m sure the White House didn’t appreciate McCain’s gesture. But, of course, it wasn’t designed to please the White House. It was a cheap ploy to hide the weakness of his Southern support. Apparently, he’s got a similar weakness in Iowa.
McCain came in fifth in Memphis, by the way…his plan backfired. The headlines weren’t “McCain Supports Bush,” but rather ones like this:

Or, even better this:

It’ll be interesting to see how voters will react to his refusal to participate in the (much more significant) Ames straw poll. I bet they’ll see right through him and decide not to play along.

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