Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., may be trailing in New Hampshire polls, but that’s not keeping him from staking his presidential hopes on the Granite State. The campaign is hoping for a repeat of McCain’s surprise victory over George Bush in the 2000 primary, when the state’s undecided voters rallied behind the self-proclaimed “straight shooter” just days before ballots were cast.
On his most recent swing through New Hampshire, McCain picked up two coveted endorsements from the New Hampshire Union-Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, and from Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
A revered star in the New England region, Schilling played a key role in his team’s unprecedented 2004 comeback from a 3-0 hole against the New York Yankees. That may be just the sort of story the McCain team hopes to channel in the final month before the Jan. 8 primary.
McCain’s campaign has begun airing a 30-second television ad featuring Schilling, titled “Backbone of Steel.” In the ad, which is airing on New England Sports Network and ESPN, Schilling says that McCain “has a backbone of steel” and calls him “a man of principle who sticks to his guns.”
Recent polls showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading in New Hampshire, but McCain aides and locals point to packed dinners and town hall meetings as evidence that the presidential hopeful may be regaining some of his momentum. “Drawing 350 people on a Saturday night in December — that’s a good sign,” one staffer recently gushed to Time Magazine’s Ana Marie Cox.
But as Cox writes, the 71-year-old is tempering his optimism with caution. When harking back to his 2000 upset of Bush, McCain seemed to temper expectations, telling Cox, “I’m sure it’s wishful thinking, but we think we might kind of be sensing what we felt in December of 1999.”
The Wall Street Journal’s June Kronholz points out that McCain “faces tough odds even in New Hampshire, the early-primary state that most reflects his fiscally conservative, socially moderate viewpoint.” But she also reminds readers that “New Hampshire voters typically make their decisions in the month before the vote, which leaves time for Mr. McCain to unseat Mr. Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, who current leads in the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State poll.”
While the political climate surrounding McCain’s presidential bid remains lukewarm, the candidate emphasized the problem of climate change in stump speeches throughout New Hampshire and South Carolina. According to NBC’s Abby Livingston, “climate change has evolved into a more and more conspicuous part of his stump. Often it is the centerpiece of his speech, rivaling the Iraq war in McCain intensity.”
Seeking to separate himself from the Bush administration, McCain told the audience at a New Hampshire forum last week that “history will not judge the Bush administration kindly on the issue of climate change.”
McCain touted nuclear power as an alternative to increasing oil exploration, reemphasizing his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reports Amanda Dumond of Foster’s Daily Democrat.
The senator also said that solar, wind and tide technologies should be considered as alternative fuel sources that will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.
McCain made energy and the environment a focal point of his Monday speech in Aiken, S.C. In remarks before the Center for Hydrogen Research, McCain said that the nation’s dependence on foreign oil is a “major strategic vulnerability, a threat to our security, our economy and the well being of our planet.”
According to a copy of the speech provided by the campaign, McCain warned: “We’re one successful attack away from an economic crisis.”
McCain also criticized heavy subsidization of alternative fuels — a stance that is widely unpopular in Iowa because of the state’s reliance on federal subsidies for ethanol products.
“I won’t support subsidizing every alternative — or tariffs that restrict the healthy competition — that stimulates innovation and lower costs,” McCain said. “But I’ll encourage the development of infrastructure and market growth necessary for these products to compete and let consumers choose the winners.”
Separately, on the eve of the Republican debate in Johnston, Iowa, McCain made headlines by defending a rival Republican presidential hopeful: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In a new TV ad airing in the Hawkeye State, Romney paints Huckabee as too liberal for Iowa voters. The 30-second spot states that Huckabee is the wrong “choice” when it comes to immigration policy.
Dave Roederer, the Iowa chairman for McCain’s campaign, called the spot an attack ad and said that it should be taken off the air.
“[The ad] is another move by a campaign that continues to insult Iowa voters” Roederer said in a statement issued Monday, adding that it is “particularly amazing that Governor Romney would attack anyone on immigration when he’s on his third position.”