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McCain fights for conservative support

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. McCain takes his appeal to conservatives in Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Some conservative activists say he needs to discuss social issues more
  • McCain was "was very sincere ... heard us loud and clear," an activist says
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From Dana Bash
CNN Correspondent
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(CNN) -- Sen. John McCain took his "Straight Talk" straight to conservatives Thursday night as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee looked to shore up support from the party's base.

At a Cincinnati, Ohio, town hall meeting, McCain talked in depth about a bevy of issues, from Iraq to taxes. He reiterated his proposal for a gas tax holiday to help Americans deal with soaring prices at the pump.

He spoke for more than an hour but never mentioned issues that social conservatives skeptical of McCain want to hear about: his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, or appointing conservative judges to the Supreme Court.

Conservative activists say that's a big problem.

"John McCain needs to talk about life more often, he needs to talk about marriage," activist Phil Burress said. "If the senator thinks he is going to run the campaign appealing to the middle by avoiding to talk about the social issues, he is going to lose Ohio."

Burress delivered that warning to McCain personally Thursday. He was one of a handful of Ohio conservatives invited to meet privately with the Arizona senator. Video Watch more on McCain's appeal to conservatives »

"He did take detailed notes and was very sincere ... heard us loud and clear," Burress said.

McCain, however, downplayed the meeting to reporters.

"I think it's just a normal thing to do. We all know that Ohio is a very crucial state," he said.

But he has reason to worry about conservatives coming out for him. Video Watch analysts weigh in on McCain's strategy »

In a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll out this week, nearly one in five self-described members of the religious right said they would vote for someone other than McCain. The same amount are undecided.

The poll, which interviewed 1,115 registered voters June 19-23 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, also found that more voters who attend weekly religious services said they'd vote for Obama, rather than McCain.

That's especially worrisome for McCain in Ohio, where President Bush won the state in 2000, and re-election in 2004, with votes from social conservatives. Interactive: CNN's latest electoral map »

McCain is out of step with his base on some issues, such as stem cell research. But for the most part, he and his base agree.

The problem, some activists say, is that rank-and-file conservatives don't know it.

"We can't deliver that message completely by ourselves. ... Sen. McCain is going to have to put his hand on the wheel of the ship," Burress said.

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The other thing conservative activists say they warned McCain about: His choice of a running mate matters to them.

They say it would help if he chose someone with well-known conservative positions. If he doesn't, it could reinforce doubts many social conservatives have about whether a President McCain would push their issues, or avoid them.

CNN political producer Ed Hornick contributed to this report.

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