NEW YORK – Republican Alan Keyes (search) needs votes, so he is here to meet and greet and make nice. This is a daunting task. Not many of his fellow Republicans have expressed great interest in the the former presidential candidate now running for a Senate seat from Illinois.
Keyes said his nearly delegation-free schedule at the Republican National Convention (search) was not intended to slight. "The (Illinois) delegation knows that our job here is to win the election, not to spend time schmoozing with one another," he explained during a brief stop at Black America's Political Action Committee, which he chairs.
Just a few weeks ago, Illinois party officials imported Keyes from Maryland for a Senate race abruptly vacated by Jack Ryan, who dropped out after a sex scandal.
Keyes' competition: Barack Obama (search), the darling of the Democrats, who is trouncing him in the polls.
Whoever wins will become the Senate's only black member.
"Polls are phony. It's totally manipulative. It's an abuse of power. I don't play that game," the conservative radio host said Monday night via cell phone as he hurtled toward his next function, a media party hosted by Newsweek magazine.
Asked if has ever lived in Illinois, Keyes shot back, "Of course I haven't lived there. Everyone knows that." Keyes, who unsuccessfully ran twice for president and twice for senator from Maryland, abruptly moved to an apartment in Illinois to qualify for the race.
Keyes' schedule for Monday and Tuesday was a breakneck marathon of interviews. The anti-abortion, anti-gun control candidate called his Democratic opponent a left-wing extremist whose support of abortion rights is an endorsement of "infanticide."
Obama, 42, is a state senator who teaches law at the University of Chicago. He brought himself instant fame, and Democrats to their feet, with his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last month in Boston.
According to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of likely Illinois voters said they supported Obama. Twenty-four percent endorsed Keyes.
State party chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka, who is also a delegate, says she supports Keyes. But she won't say if she will vote for him.
Another Illinois Republican, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, has offered only a lukewarm endorsement. Delegate-at-large and former Gov. James Thompson said this week that he cannot support Keyes.