LITTLETON, N.H. — Former GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was in his element Saturday — giving hugs, posing for pictures and shaking hands beside an oversized picnic pavilion at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post here in Littleton.
He was asking Granite Staters for their votes in the first-in-the-nation primary. But this time, not for himself.
“Lindsey Graham, he’s my man!” McCain declared with a chuckle, as people pushed toward him with their cameras. To his right, in the middle of a smaller group, Sen. Graham (R-S.C.) peppered some veterans with jokes while telling others about his foreign policy stance, a central theme in his White House run. Smoke from grilled hotdogs and burgers hovered over the scene as the two made their way through the crowd.
The two longtime friends swept across the Granite State on Saturday — from Manchester to the North Country and back, in matching khakis and blue shirts — speaking to hundreds of voters in hopes of jump-starting Graham’s struggling presidential campaign. Having failed thus far to make any impact in national polls, which means he will almost certainly not be included in next week's first GOP primary debate, Graham’s advisers are making a bet that intense retail politicking in New Hampshire could energize his candidacy.
“I wouldn't be running in New Hampshire if I thought I couldn't win in New Hampshire. … If I can break through here, then I get into the final group,” Graham told an audience of about 150 during a town hall in Manchester on Saturday afternoon. “It will be good for our party to have my voice. It would be good for our country, I think humbly, if I’m the next commander-in-chief.”
That’s a strategy that McCain himself used to resuscitate his own struggling presidential campaigns in 1999 and 2007, hosting hundreds of unwieldy town halls over the years -- an investment that resulted in crucial wins in New Hampshire. Saturday showed McCain's continued popularity in the state as he sought to draw attention to his political ally and friend.
“It’s wonderful for me to be back with my with dear and beloved friend, who is the senator from South Carolina,” McCain began. “I am slightly emotional because some of the most wonderful experiences in my life have been here in the great state of New Hampshire.”
By the end of the town hall, which the Graham campaign says will be the first of many, McCain urged supporters to give his friend a chance. “If you’ve been impressed today, as I hope you have been, with this candidate, I would like you to do me one favor if you would: Tell your friends, ‘Go and see Lindsey Graham.’ ”
During a stop in downtown Littleton at Gold House Pizza, supporter Claudia Lavoie offered him praise: “You’re here so often and we really appreciate it.” She confided in him that her and her husband Reg had recently registered as Republicans. “We’ve been independents our whole life,” she said.
“Make sure to tell Lindsey!” McCain said.
“Thanks Obama!” responded Graham.