Everybody who squeezed into Charlie's Restaurant in Perrysburg yesterday morning was there to see, hear, and touch John McCain.
But while some true believers kept faith in the senator, who has risen to the top of the Republican nomination race, not all were certain where their votes were going.
"I'm basically supporting McCain," said Harvey Crocker, 63, of Perrysburg. "I'd kind of like to hear what [U.S. Sen. Barack] Obama has to say."
One thing he was sure of: "We need some changes in Washington. A new person might be a good thing," Mr. Crocker said.
The crowd cheered loudly as Senator McCain strode through the door about 9:45 a.m. About 200 people filled the restaurant and spilled outside.
Mr. McCain is the first of the Republican or Democratic presidential candidates to visit the Toledo area in the quest for convention delegates that will be awarded in Ohio's primary March 4.
He enjoys a virtually unstoppable lead on the Republican side over his closest rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
The Democratic race between Senator Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is far closer, but Ohio is a crucial state for Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. McCain stayed at the Park Inn hotel downtown Wednesday night. His trip to Toledo coincided with a report in the New York Times raising questions about Mr. McCain's relationship with a lobbyist in 2000.
Mr. McCain had planned to arrive at Charlie's at 9 a.m., but instead held an impromptu news conference in the hotel lobby to issue a denial of the story's allegations before heading to Perrysburg.
In his informal remarks at the restaurant, he ignored the brouhaha over the New York Times report.
On Iraq, he said he would bring the troops home with honor, something that would not be possible "if we'd done what the Democrats want to do which is to declare the war lost and withdraw."
He promised to veto pork-barrel projects that he said totaled enough in the last budget to give a $1,000 tax credit for every child in America.
He promised to implement a card that veterans could use to pay for care through their own health-care provider rather than driving long distances to Veterans Administration hospitals.
Noting Ohio's loss of manufacturing jobs, he said he would use community colleges to retrain displaced workers.
Liberally interspersing his stump speech with his customary salutation, "My friends," he said he wouldn't want 2008 to be the first year since 1960 in which the winning candidate for president failed to win Ohio.
"I need to win Ohio a week from Tuesday and I need to win it in the general election, and if you help me, I can do it," he said.
Ron Dohr of Perrysburg, who was there early enough with his wife, Jan, to get a table, said Mr. McCain wasn't his first choice.
After hearing the candidate, Mr. Dohr said he was quite impressed.
"He addressed specific issues I have concerns about - green energy, getting jobs back in Ohio," Mr. Dohr said.
Al Kurth, 56, of Toledo, said he likes the Arizona senator and his chances in November.
He said he'd like to see Mr. McCain back some form of national health care, but said if he does not, he'll still probably back Mr. McCain.
"I think it's going to be a close race but I think he has a chance," Mr. Kurth said.
He shared a table with 17-year-old Eric Curavo, who brought a book about the Federalist Papers for Mr. McCain to sign.
"He's a strict constitutionalist," the Curavo youth said, adding his main concern as one who enters shooting competitions, is the Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms.
Mike and Gloria McAlear of Perrysburg were interested in seeing Mr. McCain mainly because Mr. McAlear, 47, owner of a manufacturing business, is a delegate for Mr. McCain.
"Politically, he's closer to what I believe in philosophically," Mr. McAlear said.
Mrs. McAlear, 48, chose her words carefully, indicating she was unhappy with the Iraq war and that she was impressed with Senator Obama.
Of Mr. McCain she said, "I would say he's someone who's seen the good and the bad of war, so he probably has a unique opinion of it. I think he has the best interests of the country at heart."
Griffin Byers, 17, a student at St. John's Jesuit High School, said Mr. McCain made a good speech, but "I don't support all of his policies, the war especially."
The Byers youth, who will be old enough to vote in November, said the United States' willingness to remain in Iraq indefinitely enables the country to postpone solving its problems.
Outside the restaurant, a handful of supporters of Ron Paul, who is also seeking the Republican nomination, held signs for their candidate.
"Ron Paul's the only real Republican," said Steve Smith, 20, of Toledo.
After Mr. McCain's appearance at Charlie's, he went to an unadvertised fund-raising event at LaScola Italian Grill on Airport Highway near Reynolds Road, where he stayed about half an hour before departing for a scheduled event in Michigan.
Contact Tom Troy at: