The Range

Gay Old Party

Happy birthday, John McCain! Arizona's senior senator celebrated his 71st birthday with a money-grubbing plea to supporters to give him two bucks for every year. That's one way of trying to turn that age thing into a positive.

No word on how many of those $142 birthday checks came in, but the Straight Talk Express appears to be hitting a few more bumps in the road.

Having already fallen into fourth place in national polls, McCain now finds himself in a neck-to-neck race here in Arizona with Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, who is expected to announce his candidacy this week.

The latest Cronkite-Eight Poll, from the Maricopa County PBS affiliate KAET and the Arizona State University journalism school, shows that McCain is now the favorite of just 24 percent of Arizona Republicans, while 19 percent like Romney; 18 percent like Giuliani; and 17 percent like Thompson. That's a 20 percent drop from a February Cronkite-Eight poll that had McCain at 44 percent.

Among Republicans who aren't supporting McCain: 16 percent said they didn't like his stance on issues; 13 percent said he was too wishy-washy; 12 percent cited his stand on illegal immigration; and 9 percent said he was just too old.

The aging, flip-flopping McCain appears determined to tough it out a little longer. He re-announced his candidacy on Jay Leno's Tonight Show and was one of the first Republicans to call for Sen. Larry Craig's resignation after the Idaho Republican was busted trolling for hot man-on-man action in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Craig, who maintains he simply had a "wide stance" on the toilet and has "never been gay," announced that he was stepping down a few days later.

(Speaking of hot man-on-man action: The Rev. Ted Haggard, the holy roller who was run out of Colorado Springs after pursuing quickies with a gay prostitute topped with a twist of meth, has relocated to Phoenix and is hoping that his former followers will be willing to support him while he pursues a degree in counseling. Yes, we'd certainly want to turn to him in times of trouble, especially now that he's cured.)

McCain (who dismissed his Florida campaign co-chair after the state lawmaker was popped earlier this year trolling for--you guessed it--hot man-on-man action in a park bathroom) also qualified for public funds last week, although he hasn't said whether he plans to tap them. Guess it all depends on how that birthday plea works out!

Ladies First

In other Cronkite-Eight Poll news: The Democrats sure love Hillary! The erstwhile First Lady was the favorite of 28 percent of Arizona Democrats, with 17 percent supporting Barack Obama; 17 percent supporting Al Gore; 13 percent supporting John Edwards; and 9 percent behind Bill Richardson.

Another interested factoid: The war in Iraq is now overshadowing illegal immigration as the most important issue for voters, with 38 percent of those surveyed saying the conflict was their top concern. Just a little more than one in four name illegal immigration as their top issue, while 7 percent cited health care, and 4 percent cited the economy.

Pigskin Mania

The Arizona football team started the season with a 20-7 road loss to Brigham Young University, raising doubts about the Wildcats' offense and defense.

The Cats open the home season against the formidable Northern Arizona Lumberjacks this Saturday, Sept. 8. The UA Athletic Department wants you to know that "great seats are still available," at least as of press time.

Money Troubles

In the wake of the mortgage-market meltdown, home sales prices dropped for the first time in 16 years in Arizona. The drop was a barely noticeable three-tenths of 1 percent, which isn't all that big of a deal when you consider that values have climbed more than 90 percent over the last five years.

In other bad economic news: State sales-tax collections for the month of July were $27 million below forecast, and corporate income taxes were $6.9 million below forecast, leaving overall revenues $24.5 million below estimates.

Unless state revenues exceed expectations by $225 million over the next fiscal year, the state could be facing a budget shortfall.

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