McCain Works Like a Charm

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

NASHUA, N.H., Jan. 8 -- John McCain began his long day swamped by shouting supporters at a polling place and ended it the same way -- in a hotel ballroom jammed with sweaty revelers, jubilant if not a bit stunned at the magnitude of their good fortune.

With the soundtrack from "Rocky" blaring over shouts of "Mac is back!" the Republican primary winner Tuesday night thanked the voters of New Hampshire "from the bottom of my heart." And, of course, a round of "Johnny B. Goode" sent the crowd to the moon.

"I'm past the age when I can claim the noun 'kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it," McCain crowed, "but tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like."

Around 8 p.m., the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza -- the exact place where McCain savored the same victory eight years ago -- erupted in screams and shouts as Fox News pronounced McCain the winner, thereby signaling one of the more remarkable comebacks in American politics.

"Anything over one vote is a landslide," said Jim Barrett, McCain's state director. "It's better than we anticipated."

Hundreds crammed into the ballroom, high-fiving all around, hugging and crying over this emotional moment for a guy who was all but written off last summer, when his once front-running campaign ran out of money and he was plummeting in the polls.

The low moment for media adviser Mark McKinnon came in July when he visited the campaign headquarters in Washington after layoffs brought the staff of 140 down to 22. "It was like neutron bomb had gone off," he said.

"You know, I'm in a little bit of shock," said McKinnon, who calls himself a volunteer, since he's been making McCain's ads for cost. "I didn't expect it to be this fast and this furious. . . . He just toughed it out."

The New Hampshire victory was all that much sweeter because McCain trounced Mitt Romney, who had been relentlessly attacking the four-term Arizona senator. "He tried to change his stripes and the voters sniffed it out," the media adviser said.

Earlier in the day, McCain had to be feeling pretty good when he was mobbed at his only public appearance in the state -- if for no other reason than he didn't get injured.

As the Straight Talk Express, his traveling press bus, rolled into a polling station, he was swarmed by media and mobs of chanting supporters. McCain and wife Cindy tried to weave through the parking lot as the throng engulfed them. They didn't get too far. At one point his supporters got into a chanting match with Romney supporters, who yelled "Go Romney" to rival shouts of "Go McCain."

In the end, it was a bit much for the McCains, who clearly wanted to live to enjoy his comeback in the state that gave him his 2000 victory over George W. Bush.

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