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Finally, one other possible aim - given that Mr. McCain had to know a furor would result from saying such admiring things about a pro-choice Republican - was simply to keep the attention of the press on Mr. McCain without spending a penny on advertising.

There certainly was much buzz. In a phone chat with a reporter Thursday, New Jersey Republican pollster Rick Shafton said the Ridge issue was so hot among conservatives that just during that conversation, he received four e-mails from different people with links to The Washington Times story on Thursday about Mr. McCain’s embrace of Mr. Ridge.

“People on the right feel the way like Elizabeth Edwards must have felt when she read about her husband in the National Enquirer,” Mr. Shafton said. “Why is McCain going out of his way to tell conservatives, ‘We don’t want your support’?”

“I can’t explain why he would do something so suicidal as this,” Mr. Shafton said. “He can’t think he’s going to attract independent and Republican pro-abortion types.”

But Mr. Shafton also speculated that floating Mr. Ridge may reflect overconfidence in the McCain team.

“I think the McCain campaign is being run by people who think they can’t lose this campaign because Barack Obama is black, and a black man will not win this election, no matter what kind of campaign they run.”