For Delegates From N.H., Iowa, It Comes Full Circle

Following John McCain's address to the Republican National Convention, delegates celebrated as balloons and confetti filled the convention center hall. Video by Jacqueline Refo/
By Eli Saslow and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 5, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. Sept. 4 -- One group had looked forward to this moment for more than 10 years, the other for less than 10 days. But on Thursday night, the delegations from New Hampshire and Iowa both stood and waved campaign signs, welcoming John McCain to the stage with the same rousing ovation.

For Republicans from New Hampshire, a fiercely independent state that identifies with McCain's maverick image and where his campaign was revived earlier this year, Thursday's speech marked the long-awaited coronation of their favorite, adopted politician. For Republicans from Iowa, where evangelicals are strong in the state GOP but McCain has struggled, the speech's conservative overtones and biographical storytelling crystallized his transformation.

And for McCain, standing alone at the lectern before an image of a waving American flag, the response from those two delegations inside the Xcel Energy Center proved he had pulled through this Republican National Convention with his base intact. Delegates from Iowa and New Hampshire, where this election began, said they are confident their states will rally around McCain in the end.

"He aced it," said former New Hampshire governor Walter Peterson. "Strong, but not overbearing. Just quiet strength. A call to action."

"What makes you so proud is that the man has always fought for his country and will keep fighting," said New Hampshire state Sen. Bob Letourneau, pushing toward the stage with fellow delegates as confetti fell on their hair. "It was a great speech. We're on our way to victory."

Sitting on opposite sides of the stage, New Hampshire and Iowa delegates credited McCain with a number of successes this week. He spoke candidly about service and government corruption in his speech, they said. Introductory speakers and videos highlighted his patriotism. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's pick as his running mate, thrived in her speech Wednesday night.

"It has been a perfect week for [McCain], and now this is the perfect end," said T.J. Augustine, 19, a delegate from Iowa. "When he talks, you just have to trust him because he has this intense look. He comes across as firm and honest, in control. There were a lot of us who came here maybe a little skeptical about him, maybe saw him as a little bit of an outsider. Now we're leaving fired up."

Like many members of the Iowa delegation, Augustine listened to three men speak this week whom he once liked more than McCain. The president of the Iowa Teenage Republicans, Augustine spoke privately last year with several presidential candidates. He liked Mike Huckabee's religious views, Fred Thompson's charisma and Mitt Romney's conservatism.

"McCain," he said, "didn't rank very high. He didn't really seem to care about us."

McCain chose not to campaign in Iowa before the 2000 presidential election, and he rarely visited the state before finishing fourth in the 2008 presidential primary with 14 percent of the vote. He seemed to consider himself above Iowa's handshake politics, delegates said, and not until the last few weeks has McCain finally managed to endear himself. The video screen behind him Thursday showed images of a small-town schoolhouse and a cornfield during his speech, and the Iowa delegates cheered.

Diana Hansen, an employee for the Iowa Christian Alliance, said McCain did a better job speaking about "Iowa issues, to the kind of working-class American people." Hansen felt disappointed when McCain first took control of the Republican primaries because she thought he misunderstood conservative Christians. But he has since proven that religion matters, she said, and he talked about his faith again Thursday night.

"A little part of it for me is what he's talking about now, and a big part was shown with his vice presidential pick," Hansen said. "Palin is perfect. The way she talked about everything, you can tell she understands what it's like to live in a small town. And that's the kind of presidential ticket I want -- one with those small-town type of values."

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