Aud composed of more corporate bigwigs

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, falling behind in polls to Rudolph Giuliani, raised money in Beverly Hills on Tuesday and did his best to assure the press and supporters he was “very happy where we are.”

Speaking at a press conference before a $1,000-per-person luncheon at the Beverly Hilton, McCain noted that “polls jump around a lot.” At this point in 1999, the last time he was running for president, he said he was “dead last.”

“We are kind of in spring training, as you know,” he said. “We are establishing a good political and financial base, and that is what we have been looking for for a long time.”

In contrast to Barack Obama’s fund-raiser, a star-studded affair also held at the Beverly Hilton last month, McCain’s event was more subdued, filled more with corporate types than creative professionals. One of McCain’s co-chairs is Univision’s Jerry Perenchio, and MGM’s Harry Sloan and MGM Mirage’s Terry Lanni sit on his national finance committee. Other supporters include the Walt Disney Co.’s Preston Padden and actress Connie Stevens.

As member of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain has long had ties to the entertainment industry.

Even Hollywood moderates and liberals have been attracted to McCain’s maverick status, but that has diminished as McCain has taken a strident position in support of President Bush’s increase in troops in Iraq. There have been worries McCain will turn off moderates if he swings too far to the right in an attempt to appeal to the party’s conservative base.

There was consternation among some of McCain’s industry supporters when he said recently that Roe vs. Wade “should be overturned.” On Tuesday, he elaborated on those comments.

“I understand that this is a difficult issue,” he said. “I understand that people have very emotional views on it. I thought Roe. vs. Wade was a bad decision. But I also agree with others that we have to change the culture of America. And I think, as with the amendment to the Constitution, which I voted against, on the status of marriage, which I believe should be decided by the states, I believe this issue should be decided by the states.”

McCain’s colleague on the Senate Commerce Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has said he is prepared to introduce legislation to allow the federal government to regulate TV violence, contending that such industry efforts as the V-chip have not worked.

“I haven’t seen his proposal,” McCain said. “But I notice that already the FCC has levied some record fines. I don’t know what needs to be improved on that. Do I worry about it? Of course, most parents worry about it. But there will always be a balance between freedom of speech and the excesses we see from time to time.”

With the California primary expected to move to Feb. 5, McCain pledged to campaign in the state — and not just raise money. But he did say he was concerned that with so many large states moving their primaries to that date, “it compresses the whole process, including the fund-raising.

“It puts increased importance on the first three states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and it doesn’t give the party faithful a real opportunity to examine the candidates.”

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