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Can McCain win without Limbaugh?

Radio host Rush Limbaugh

Until today’s appearance by Gov. Sarah Palin on “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” Sen. John McCain’s campaign has made its appeal to the American voter on Jay Leno’s “Tonight” and “The Late Show” with David Letterman but has never requested an appearance with Limbaugh – the king of conservative talk radio.

In an election in which McCain needs to shore up every vote of his base to overcome Sen. Barack Obama’s lead in the polls, the Republican candidate has eschewed the opportunity to speak to Limbaugh’s audience, estimated at 14.25 million people. Limbaugh’s program, the nation’s most-listened-to talk radio show in history, is credited by the freshman Republican class of 1994 for having a crucial role its takeover of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years

Today, even as WND was hounding the campaign for an answer as to why McCain hadn’t solicited an interview with Limbaugh, a source close to the radio show told WND that the McCain camp called and offered his running mate, Sarah Palin, as a surrogate.

During the interview with Palin, Limbaugh made no secret of his preference for the governor over McCain, whom he has long criticized.

“I admire you so much, I really don’t know what to ask,” Limbaugh said to Palin.

Limbaugh gushed that the people on “our side,” referring to his politically conservative allies, are “thrilled to death” and “revved up” by Palin’s presence on the GOP ticket, pointedly remarking to the governor that conservatives “prior to your being chosen were not nearly as excited as they are now.”

Limbaugh’s disdain for McCain is well-known to regular listeners. And, in an issue of the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, Limbaugh said of a presidential election with McCain as the GOP candidate, “If your team isn’t in it, you root for the team you hate less. That’s McCain.”

McCain has tossed his share of barbs toward Rush Limbaugh, as well.

The Washington Post reports McCain telling the press of Limbaugh, “I don’t listen to him. There’s a certain trace of masochism in my family, but not that deep.”

Prior to today’s interview with Palin, WND learned, the McCain campaign had made no effort to get its candidate on Limbaugh’s show. Neither did the host seek to invite the senator.

Unlike Leno and Letterman, Limbaugh’s show doesn’t typically invite guests to sit down and chat, preferring instead to allow the host to speak and mix it up with listeners.

That hasn’t stopped political figures in the past, however, from finding their way on the air.

In 2000, presidential nominee George W. Bush came on the show as a guest, and during his 2004 re-election campaign, Bush called in to the show.

Limbaugh has blasted McCain on the air for working too closely with the Democratic Party, saying in February that McCain “stabbed his own party in the back, I can’t tell you how many times.”

an interview with Time magazine
, Limbaugh said of McCain, “Here we’re going to have a guy, if he’s elected, who has made a practice of getting things done, not by reaching across the aisle, but walking across the aisle and sitting down with the Democrats. He is who he is. And so it looks like we’re going to get a Democrat agenda regardless of who wins the presidency.”

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In the radio interview today, Palin worked determinedly to counter that perception and draw a distinction between McCain and Obama.

“We’re going to go one direction or the other,” Palin told Limbaugh. “If you understand that our ticket, what we’re all about, is pro-growth, pro-private sector, we’re tax cuts, we’re reining in government, we’re proponents of the culture of life that would make America better off, we’re adamant about winning the war with the strongest military in the world – all those things that we stand for that I think are so clearly articulated with our message, with the plan that has been expressed – we can go that direction or we can go in the complete opposite direction of all those aforementioned goals that we have in mind, if you choose the other ticket.”

The Washington Post reports MSNBC host Tucker Carlson also noticed McCain’s reticence to come on Limbaugh’s show and offered McCain this advice:
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to fly down to Palm Beach and take Rush Limbaugh out to dinner and slobber all over him? Why not suck up to Rush Limbaugh?”

WND also called the campaign to ask why McCain would send Palin on Limbaugh’s show, rather than himself but received no reply.

McCain also has faced criticism from Letterman, who blasted him for canceling an appearance and said of his choice to temporarily suspend his campaign, “This doesn’t smell right, because this is not the way a tested hero behaves.”

Talk radio hosts have a long history of joining Limbaugh in attacking McCain’s politics.

Sean Hannity, host of the nation’s second most popular talk radio show, accused McCain in February of showing “a significant pattern of aligning himself with liberal Democrats against his conservative base.” But McCain has joined Hannity on the air since getting the nomination.

During the primary season, radio host Laura Ingraham endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination stating, “There is no way in hell I could pull the lever for John McCain.” She, too, has since recanted and is supporting the Republican ticket.

McCain has also spurned overtures from radio talk host and Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, who was able to get Barack Obama to sit down with him for a multi-part interview on his TV show. No. 3 political talk host Michael Savage, who had supported McCain when he won the nomination, has also been rebuffed by the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign. Savage has since turned harshly critical of McCain’s campaign.

Mark McKinnon, a top McCain adviser, told the Post he finds the criticism from Limbaugh and the other hosts “frustrating,” saying: “Our question is, ‘Isn’t it better to get behind a Republican you may disagree with from time to time than work for an outcome that puts a Democrat in the White House with whom you will disagree all of the time?'”

Addressing Limbaugh specifically he added, “We don’t expect Rush to fall in line. We know he’s an independent guy, just like McCain. And we know he and McCain will continue to have differences, and we respect those differences.”