(AP) Republican presidential candidate John McCain got a warm welcome here Thursday from his political ally, Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
McCain visited Minnesota to raise money at a St. Paul home, where a private reception with him was going for $2,300 a head and general admission was $1,000 per person.
The Arizona senator is struggling against Republican rivals Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney and may face more complications if actor Fred Thompson gets into the race. But Pawlenty has been behind his candidacy since last year.
The Republican governor has made five out-of-state trips this year to Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire as a national co-chairman of McCain's campaign.
The two men have nothing but praise for each other.
McCain called Pawlenty "one of the real rising stars in the Republican Party" at an airport news conference, even as he deflected yet another question about picking the Minnesota politician as his running mate.
For his part, Pawlenty talked up McCain's skills at consuming one of the delicacies of the Minnesota State Fair, which the duo visited in 2004: "He eats cheese curds like a monster," the governor said.
McCain said he's not fazed by polls that show him with less than 10 percent support in early primary states, and he's confident his support of the immigration bill backed by President Bush is in line with the opinions of most Americans and Republicans.
"I feel fine," he said. "In September, when people finish their vacation, we'll out-campaign 'em just like we did in 2000. In the year 1999 at this time, I was at 3 percent."
Minnesota Democrats used the visit to criticize Pawlenty, saying the state's quality of life is slipping.
"Governor Pawlenty is driven more by his national ambitions than by any concern for Minnesotans," Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez said in a release.