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.
McCain is an unabashedly superstitious guy. So he chose the same room of the same hotel he had in 2000, when he beat Bush by 18 points. He wore the same green sweater he wore eight years ago, and said he carries lucky charms, including a heads-up coin he found on a Portsmouth street. He also stopped by the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, because that is what he did eight years ago, reports Politico.
"Any superstition you can imagine, I indulge in," he told reporters this week. "Whatever I can do that's superstitious, I'll do it."
As he and Cindy re-boarded the bus Tuesday morning, McCain shook his head and said, "Whew . . . brother! That was something! That's why we don't go into the polling stations. . . . There was one poor couple that was just trying to get in to go vote."
Indeed, Gene and Jo Anne Godfrey, 74 and 73, respectively, could barely make their way to the front door at the polling station. The frail couple, in fact, desperately wanted to cast their ballots for McCain at one of the largest and busiest polling places, but they were forced to trudge through knee-high snow because the driveway was blocked. McCain supporters tried to help the couple.
"Tell him he's about to run down some real votes," Jo Anne Godfrey said, as she held on tightly to her husband. The couple said they were independents who were going to change their registration Tuesday morning to vote for McCain, as voters here are permitted to do. Nick Dahl, an election board official, said turnout at the station was heavier by mid-morning than it had been in 2004, and many independents and first-time voters were showing up.
"Did you see those little girls who were crying because they got hurt?" Cindy McCain asked her husband once the couple were safely back on the bus. Aides fetched the girls and brought them onto the bus to meet McCain.
"I'm sorry, girls. I apologize that that happened to you," McCain said.
McCain has been looking pretty spry in these last few days, as he has vaulted to the top of GOP polls in New Hampshire, his press contingent has grown and overflow crowds have been packing his events.
Just last summer, his campaign was considered DOA after it ran out of cash. Conservative Republicans scorned him for not having a hard-nosed approach to immigration, and Democrats and moderates criticized him for supporting the surge in troops in Iraq.
"Tell the truth, tell the truth, always tell the truth," he told reporters, when asked how he interpreted his strong polls in the state.