John McCain

Utah supporters of GOP presidential candidate John McCain are hoping a Thursday fundraiser in Salt Lake City will add $375,000 to the Arizona senator's campaign coffers.

Tickets, priced at a minimum of $1,000, are still available for the private luncheon event at the Grand America Hotel. Contributing the maximum allowed under federal elections law, $2,300, also entitles participants to attend a prelunch reception with McCain.

"We're getting pretty close to our goal," said Tim Bridgewater, McCain's western states regional coordinator. McCain, now his party's presumptive nominee, has long lagged behind former GOP candidate Mitt Romney in raising money from Utahns.

Romney, who dropped out of the race after a poor showing Feb. 5 in Super Tuesday voting, was considered a "favorite son" candidate in Utah because he ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and is a member of the LDS Church, as are most of the state's residents.

A former governor of Massachusetts, Romney raised nearly $6 million in Utah, more than he collected in any other state except California. McCain, whose campaign nearly collapsed last year because of financial problems, has just over $177,000 in contributions from Utahns.

"No one will equal Romney's fund-raising prowess in the state for presidential politics," Bridgewater said. But as the Republican pick for president in a predominantly Republican state, McCain should attract more support here.

A new poll of registered voters by the Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV showed that Utahns are becoming more favorable to McCain. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they'd vote for McCain if the election were held today, compared to just 30 percent last month.

Much of McCain's Utah money came from his first fund-raiser in the state, held at a private home in Federal Heights in March 2007, just after the candidate announced his presidential bid on David Letterman's late-night TV show.

As he does now, McCain had the backing of one of the state's most prominent Republicans, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. — even though Huntsman's father was a finance director for Romney.

Huntsman is a host of the Thursday event, which will feature a speech by McCain.

A protest of McCain's support for the war in Iraq is being planned for outside the downtown hotel by retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. George Muller. Muller, 65, said he also protested the Vietnam War.

McCain, a POW in that war, backs the Iraq war and is "in favor of staying there. He thinks we should have a victory there," Muller said. "How many lives, how many troop lives, how many Iraqi lives is it going to cost?"

E-mail: [email protected]