- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

The resurrection of Sen. John McCain’s presidential nomination bid was fueled by gains on the ground in Iraq, his retail campaign skills and the fact that New Hampshire voters simply like him.

“The success of the Iraq surge was a big bonus for McCain but his success in New Hampshire also was about people seeing him as someone who can change things — the reformer,” said Charles L. Black, a veteran Republican Party strategist who in July rushed in to help campaign manager Rick Davis rescue the failing McCain campaign.

Mike Karem, a Kentucky lawyer who worked on every Republican Party presidential campaign since Richard M. Nixon’s in 1972, said voters give Mr. McCain credit for changing the course of the Iraq war for the better.

“McCain knows how to campaign in New Hampshire — town meeting, straight talk, telling the truth,” Mr. Black said. “Also we used a couple themes: first, getting control of federal spending and winning the war against radical Islamic extremism.”

Mr. McCain convinced New Hampshire’s independents that he has more experience and judgment than the other candidates to resolve those issues.

He handily defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the nation’s first primary Tuesday.

In an exit poll, 48 percent of Mr. McCain’s supporters said his leadership and personal qualities were the most important reasons they voted for him. Only 25 percent said they chose him because of his positions on issues.

Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos, whose projections in both the Democratic and Republican primaries by far came closest to being right, said for all the Romney ads slamming Mr. McCain for opposing President Bush’s tax cuts and supporting amnesty for illegal aliens, “in the end, people said, ‘I’m confused about issues but I like McCain.’ ”

“Most important was not what McCain did but what the other Republican contenders did not do,” said former Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican. “None of the others tried to — or was able to — fill the void created by McCain’s apparent early demise. The others were so focused on each other they seemed not to recognize the need to win over McCain’s supporters.”

The McCain roller coaster has been breathtaking. At the beginning of last year, Mr. McCain was considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination. He had assembled top former advisers to Mr. Bush, other ace Republican Party operatives, support from early-state Republican officials and a pile of endorsements and money.

But by July he plunged deeper and quicker than any candidate in memory, ran out of money and had to fire more than half his team.

Yesterday, Mr. McCain, seeking to build momentum, something none of the Republican aspirants has been able to maintain, trumpeted his national security experience when hitting the campaign trail in Michigan, where the next primary will be held Tuesday, and South Carolina, where his 2000 presidential bid died.

Political analysts said the attacks against Mr. McCain that failed to resonate with New Hampshire voters are more likely to work in later states where Republican voters have voiced dissatisfaction with his efforts to legalize illegal aliens under certain conditions, his successful rewrite of campaign finance laws some say violate freedom of speech and his initial opposition to the Bush tax cuts he now supports.

“It’s a McCain trademark to flip and flop in the name of virtue while attacking any and all who bring attention to what you are up to,” said American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene.

“One of the reasons that so many Republicans and conservatives have questions about McCain is that he began his political career as a pretty consistent conservative until he began playing to the national media and remade himself into a ‘good government’ reformer, global warming aficionado and enemy of the party whose nomination he now seeks,” said Mr. Keene.

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