segunda-feira, 7 de janeiro de 2008
Retracing Steps, McCain Is Feeling Rejuvenated
Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign wheeled out a confetti gun on Saturday in Peterborough to boom a festive end to his 100th town-hall-style meeting. It was the same place he began his New Hampshire primary campaign of 2000.
Mr. McCain, a Republican, is methodically returning in these last days before the New Hampshire primary to the same venues he visited in that campaign, in which he defeated George W. Bush by 18 percentage points. He is surrounded by many of the same New Hampshire aides, telling many of the same jokes, appealing to the same voters and promising what seems like unlimited access to the state’s residents and reporters.
“It’s superstition,” Mr. McCain said Sunday. “And a bit of nostalgia.”
Yet there are crucial differences between this campaign and the one of 2000, and they reflect how Mr. McCain is in many ways a different candidate running a very different campaign in a very different time.
Mr. McCain, 71, is eight years older, his hair turned white. He is more likely to wear a suit and tie as he paces his circles before audiences of voters, microphone in hand, head lowered as he waits for the next question.
The issues that he used to define his iconoclastic form of Republicanism have changed with the times. Talk of government reform, overhauling campaign finance and fixing Social Security has given way to national security and terrorism, scolding discussions of wasteful Republican spending, and global warming, an issue he said voters in this state placed on his agenda.
“It’s mostly the same old team on board, but it’s a different set of circumstances,” he said. “We’re in two wars. And we face the threat of radical Islamic extremism. We are in a little bit of a different environment.”
Mr. McCain has nowhere near the resources he did in 2000. His once gold-plated campaign organization collapsed last summer, unable to raise the money needed to sustain it. Mark McKinnon, his media adviser, is putting together advertisements for Mr. McCain at cost — allowing him to at least hold his own with his main opponent, Mitt Romney, on the air in the final hours of the campaign here.
Eight years ago, Mr. McCain would send invitations to 20,000 voters to try to ensure a good turnout for an event; this time, his aides said, they could typically afford just 5,000 mailers. Some of his closest aides — Mark Salter and Charles Black — say they are forgoing paychecks for now.
And the tone of Mr. McCain’s advertisements — and his attacks on opponents, arrows sheathed in jokes — have grown more acerbic. That, his aides said, reflected the lessons he learned in 2000 after an embittering defeat by Mr. Bush in South Carolina; in that showdown, which pretty much ended his presidential hopes for that campaign, Mr. McCain refused to run attack ads responding to Mr. Bush.
In New Hampshire in 2000, Mr. Bush took issue when Mr. McCain ran an ad saying, “only one man running for president who knows the military and understands the world.”
This time, to make the same point about Mr. Romney, also a governor with no foreign experience, Mr. McCain has run advertisements on the Internet that show jarring images of terrorists in masks holding guns. One of his main television ads spotlights Mr. Romney’s changing positions on some issues, and highlights an editorial in The Concord Monitor calling him “a phony.”
And Mr. McCain’s post-New Hampshire prospects, should he win on Tuesday, are if anything less certain than they were 2000, when he left this state confident that he would beat Mr. Bush. He has barely any organization in Michigan, the next state to vote, said Saul Anuzis, the state Republican chairman there. Mr. McCain was forced to lay off all but one of his staff members because of his financial difficulties.
He has more of a presence in South Carolina, but there he would face a tough challenge from Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, said Katon Dawson, the party chairman there. “He has a pretty strong team here,” Mr. Dawson said. “I wouldn’t write the senator off.”
Mr. McCain appears at times more coiled than in 2000, reluctant to say anything that might jinx the way things are going. At the same time, he seems to be enjoying this campaign just as much as the last one: the nonstop attention from voters and journalists, the continued conversations and probing and traveling.
Mike Murphy, a friend and close adviser to his last campaign, showed up this weekend and the two men were before long loudly exchanging stories — “tell about the time” Mr. McCain would start — in the back of the bus.
Out of money after the near meltdown of his campaign last summer, collapsing in the polls and forced to lay off most of his staff, Mr. McCain went back to New Hampshire, to do what worked for him last time in a state that has already viewed him with affection: a poll by CNN and WMUR released Sunday found that 80 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats said they had a favorable view of him.
Like last time, he is riding the Straight Talk Express, his traveling press conference of a bus, beginning his sentences with “I’m going to give you a little straight talk” and entertaining his audiences with self-deprecatory asides, delivered with a double-arch of the eyebrows.
As of Sunday, he had held 102 town-hall-style meetings, compared with 114 in 2000. He was going back to the same places, telling the same jokes — “We have so little water in Arizona that the trees chase the dogs,” he says — and using the same props to work the crowd, like the confetti gun.
There was never any question that reporters would be given free access to him on his bus. And there was never any question that he would pay visits to the same newspaper editorial boards that endorsed him last time. It is also why he is planning to end his campaign on Monday night with a rally in Portsmouth, the same place he ended his 2000 campaign.
“I found a nickel on the ground here with its head up, and I kept it,” he said. “With the head up, not the tail up.”
There is one other difference between last time and 2008. When Mr. McCain rolled into Peterborough on Saturday night in his two-bus motorcade, 2,000 people were waiting to hear him. It was a far cry from the barren hall that confronted him back in late 1999 on his first trip to Peterborough as a candidate for president, where even the promise of free ice cream failed to bring a crowd.