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“As you know, the war in which you have fought has divided the American people. But it has divided no Americans in their admiration for you. We all honor you.

“I have lived a long, eventful and blessed life,” he said. “I have had the good fortune of knowing personally a great many brave and selfless patriots who sacrificed and shed blood to defend their country. But I’ve known none braver nor better than you. You are my inspiration, and your country’s.”

Mr. McCain arrived in Baghdad weary and discouraged. He left Iraq energized and eager to continue his own struggle, which he knew paled in comparison with those of the men and women he had just met - and he met every one, staying for hours.

“It was just John and myself in the plane, with a few staff folks,” Mr. Graham recalled of the flight home. “I never will forget, as we took off he looked over at me and said, ‘If these kids can do this, we can get our campaign back going.’ It rededicated him to winning the primary.”

A campaign shift

Mr. McCain arrived home and hit the ground running. He trimmed fat out of his campaign bureaucracy and would run it on a shoestring budget of $1 million a month. “This campaign is going to be won on the ground, vote by vote,” he wrote to his supporters in a fundraising e-mail appeal, “and I’m convinced that if every voter learns of my unparalleled experience, we will win.” He made his resolve to win in Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign, embarking on what staffers dubbed “The No Surrender Tour.”

The tour started in Veterans of Foreign Wars huts and American Legion posts, aimed first at the millions of veterans across the nation. He took several men who had shared prison cells with him, along with veterans of the fighting in Iraq. They distributed stickers vowing “No Surrender.”

His bus zigzagged across Iowa, over to New Hampshire and down to South Carolina, and at nearly every stop he displayed the full-page advertisement in the New York Times, posted by MoveOn.org mocking Gen. Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

“It’s disgraceful,” Mr. McCain told voters in Iowa, displaying his anger, and challenged his Democratic opponents to denounce the message.

The badgering questions from reporters, asking whether and when he would drop out of the race, began to recede as he stayed stubbornly on message: The surge will work, given time.

That message would soon be delivered loud and clear by the very general in charge of making the surge work. Mr. McCain’s future in politics was clearly at stake.

The hearing

The buildup was dramatic: Gen. Petraeus and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testified before the House and the Senate beginning Sept. 11, 2007, six years to the day after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The White House had deflected the verdict on the success of the surge until the general and ambassador could testify, and now, against a media backdrop of speculation that the administration would be forced to re-evaluate the war, Democratic critics in Congress waited to pounce.

But Gen. Petraeus, in full dress khaki with dozens of television lights playing on the four stars on his shoulders and a lavish array of medals and service ribbons on his chest, sat unbowed and unmoved through six hours of grueling questions. “As a bottom line upfront,” he said, “the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies in the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.

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