- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

NASHUA, N.H. — Sen. John McCain of Arizona yesterday rose from the ashes to win the nation’s first primary, delivering a humiliating loss to Mitt Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts who held a commanding, double-digit lead in the state just a month ago.

Reviving a presidential bid that had been all but dead this summer, when the Iraq war that he staunchly supports was going poorly and his campaign was in disarray, Mr. McCain was buoyant after the win.

“I’m past the age where I can claim the mantle of ‘kid,’ no matter what adjective precedes it, but tonight, we sure showed ‘em what a comeback looks like,” Mr. McCain said to a ballroom full of supporters cheering “Mac Is Back.”

In heavy voting statewide, Mr. McCain stood at 37 percent — or 79,061 votes — with 89 percent of precincts reporting. Mr. Romney had 32 percent, or 67,574 votes, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who took the Iowa caucuses last week, took third, drawing 11 percent, or 23,667 votes, even though state polls showed him in the mid-single digits in November.

“We kept saying four or five, we’d feel good about that,” Mr. Huckabee told supporters. “Tonight, you’ve given us so much more than we could’ve imagined just a few days or weeks ago.”

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was projected to finish in fourth, with 9 percent, or 18,362 votes, just ahead of long-shot candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, at 8 percent, or 16,281 votes. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was in last place among the top candidates, with just 1 percent, or 2,572 votes.

The come-from-behind win by Mr. McCain, who once again persuaded independents to support him just as they did in 2000, when he won the state by 18 points, puts Mr. Romney against the ropes. He has sunk millions of his own dollars into his once-powerful campaign, but he has now finished in second in the two states he most wanted to win.

“There have been three races so far,” Mr. Romney told his supporters. “I’ve gotten two silvers and one gold. Thank you, Wyoming,” he said, referring to his first-place finish over the weekend in the western state’s county conventions.

So far, no Republican candidate has built momentum — Mr. Huckabee’s Iowa win did little more than move him into third place in New Hampshire. Now, Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney meet in Michigan on Jan. 15, where they are the only two candidates to make a serious effort to win the contest. Both campaign there today.

Mr. Romney will try to regroup to take his first win, but a victory may not deliver much momentum — his father was once governor of the state and many candidates are focusing on South Carolina, traditionally considered the third decisive state in the nomination race.

In addition, Mr. Romney’s ability to raise cash may be impaired by the McCain win, as donors could begin to see the two-time loser as not a viable candidate to win the nomination. What’s more, after Mr. McCain defeated Texas Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000, momentum delivered a win to him in Michigan, where he beat the eventual nominee by eight points.

From there, the Republican battle moves to South Carolina, where Mr. Huckabee, sporting strong support from evangelicals there, will battle the winner of Michigan. Mr. Thompson’s campaign also will kick off there. “I don’t know of any better place to stand my ground and test my case than in South Carolina,” said Mr. Thompson, who spent yesterday campaigning there.

Mr. McCain faltered in South Carolina in 2000 after his win in New Hampshire. But last week, during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Mr. McCain said he had learned the lesson from his loss to Mr. Bush.

“The reason that we lost in South Carolina in 2000, a subject I love to revisit, was because President Bush had a political and financial base in the state of the South Carolina,” he said. “That’s the reason that we lost that race. We now have a significant political and financial base, that’s why I’m confident, I don’t see a repetition of what happened in 2000.”

Mr. Romney, seeking to become the nation’s first Mormon president, had run a traditional campaign, focusing on wins in Iowa and New Hampshire to build momentum early and force candidates struggling for money and media attention out of the race. But he was tagged early on with the label of flip-flopper — he was pro-choice when he ran for the Senate in 1994 but now says he is pro-life — and he was outcampaigned here by Mr. McCain, who did more than 100 town halls across New Hampshire, covering hundreds off miles on his Straight Talk Express bus.

In recent days, Mr. Romney sought to cash in on the popular message of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who won Iowa but narrowly lost here last night, with a message of change. Mr. Romney targeted Mr. McCain, a four-term senator, as a Washington insider incapable of delivering that change.

New Hampshire’s large population of independent voters, more than 40 percent of the electorate, once again held sway, delivering the win to Mr. McCain. One key that drew independents back to him was that Iraq fell off the front pages as the troop increase strategy that he had long urged stabilized Iraq.

But Republicans, too, found Mr. McCain more palatable after his comprehensive immigration bill — which opponents said amounted to amnesty — died in Congress and he began to tell voters here that he had gotten the message to secure the borders first.

Mr. McCain has virtually lived in New Hampshire since Labor Day, hitting all corners of the state to stump for votes. At 71, he kept up a fierce pace, often campaigning for 16 to 18 hours a day.

His effort earned him the endorsement of more than two dozen New Hampshire newspapers, including the state’s largest, the Union Leader.

Mr. Giuliani, who made a November push for voters in a state considered tailor-made for his socially liberal record but abandoned the gambit after making no headway, remained optimistic. Unlike Mr. Romney, he is running an unconventional campaign, seeking to survive until a 23-state round of contests on Feb. 5, in which he is expected to take in hundreds of delegates from states such as New York, New Jersey and California.

“This is a kickoff of what’s going to be a very long and very tough game,” he said, adding, “Maybe we’ve lulled our opponents into a false sense of confidence now.”

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