NEW YORK (AP) _ In New York on an East Coast fund-raising trip, Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he would keep fighting state GOP leaders for a place on the Republican primary ballot throughout the state.

He said he liked his chances of beating Texas Gov. George W. Bush in New York's March 7 primary _ if voters get the chance to choose him.

``Absolutely I expect to be fighting in New York state for the nomination,'' McCain told reporters after meeting with Jewish leaders in Manhattan.

He quipped, ``Every time I look at Governor Bush's money, I'm reminded of the words of Chairman Mao, who said 'It's always darkest before it's totally black.''' But he added, ``I'm very happy in the progress we've been making.''

McCain thanked Mayor Rudolph Giuliani _ a Bush backer _ for supporting his fight to keep his name on the ballot statewide.

``I'm very grateful that Rudy Giuliani, in his characteristic style, showed the courage to stand up for what is right,'' McCain said. ``The days of one candidate appearing on a ballot disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed.''

Republican leaders have challenged McCain's petitions in 17 of the state's 31 congressional districts, contending he failed to obtain the required number of signatures from party members. McCain is suing in an effort to get on the ballot.

McCain, who is not competing in Iowa, is trolling for dollars along the East Coast this week while most of his competitors focus on the Midwest state ahead of the nation's first caucuses there on Monday.

His money tour started with three New York events on Tuesday, including one for which Seagram executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. was host and another sponsored by financial news service founder Michael Bloomberg.

At a Wednesday evening fund-raiser in Boston, hosted by attorney Ernest Klein of Hale & Dorr, McCain said the spate of fund-raisers was not unusual.

``I need the money,'' he said. ``We just have to continue to raise funds. I haven't had a fund-raiser in a couple of weeks.''

At the cocktail reception on the 33rd floor of the State Street Bank overlooking Boston Harbor, McCain joked with supporters about his need for cash. ``The good news is we now have enough funds to finance our efforts in Massachusetts. The bad news is that some of that money is still in your wallets and purses,'' he said.

McCain also was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser Thursday at the Greenwich, Conn., home of HBO President John Billock.

He was tapping more than just Republican money _ both Bronfman and Bloomberg also give to Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group that studies campaign finance issues.

That is sure to raise objections from conservatives who believe McCain compromises too easily.

The senator's East Coast trip also highlights the tricky issue of collecting money from individuals whose businesses are regulated by his Senate Commerce Committee. The problem has dogged McCain for weeks and highlights the hazards of crusading against a system in which he takes part.

His campaign spokesman, Howard Opinsky, says such controversy can't be avoided because 80 percent of the nation's businesses are overseen in some fashion by the committee.

McCain's fund-raising ability has mirrored his rise in the polls in states holding early primaries. He raised more than $6.1 million in the last three months of 1999, twice as much as he took in during the preceding three months. He reported $13.6 million in donations for the year.

At his meeting with Jewish leaders, McCain focused on foreign policy, saying there are still major obstacles in the peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

He promised as president to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, an idea that is important to some Jewish groups but opposed by Palestinians.

But he took issue with his audience on another topic, saying he would not offer clemency to convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, whose freedom has been demanded by some Jewish activists.

``I would not release Jonathan Pollard because I believe that he betrayed our nation and he betrayed his obligations to our government,'' McCain said. ``The evidence is overwhelming and abundantly clear.''

Rabbi Israel Miller, former chairman of the conference, said he disagreed with McCain on Pollard but ``I was impressed by his not pandering to the crowd.''