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Pretty amazing, here he comes again

December 23, 2007 |  3:10 pm

After his campaign and fundraising imploded last spring, he's been saying all along time and again that simply continuing to campaign and flying economy class in the back of the plane without aides and getting his message out and sticking to his points, even though, say, supporting the military surge in Iraq, among other stands, was unpopular, he's been saying things would come around. Because the American people like straight talk and he'd rather lose an election than a war.

And, guess what, it seems that nearly six years in a POW cell does give you some perspective. He is coming on strong now.

Ariz. Sen. John McCain, who pulled off a stunning 19-point upset whacking of George W. Bush and Karl Rove in New Hampshire in the 2000 Republican primary, is surging once again in the Granite state -- which spells good news for him and trouble for the state’s longtime front-runner Mitt Romney.

A new Boston Globe poll today taken Dec. 16-20 shows McCain trailing the former Massachusetts governor by only three percentage points –- well within the margin of error. Among 410 likely Republican voters, Romney leads McCain 28% to 25%. That's a very steep climb for McCain. A Globe poll last month gave Romney a whopping 33% with McCain trailing way back at 17% and Rudy Giuliani ahead of him at 20%. Now, Giuliani has slipped to third with 14%.

The Democratic race in the Granite State is also a virtual dead heat, according to the Globe poll of 422 likely voters. It shows Illinois Sen. Barack Obama leading with the support of 30% of likely Democratic voters while New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has 28%, down from her 14 point advantage last  month. John Edwards holds steady in third at 14%. The margin of error of both samples is +/- 4.9%.

In the Republican race, this is just the latest good news in New Hampshire for ....

McCain. Romney has dominated all other candidates in polls there since last summer. But a mid-week New Hampshire poll from Rasmussen Reports showed Romney leading 31% to McCain’s 27%. McCain also inched up into second past the former New York mayor in a WMUR/CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire last week.

More voters named Romney as the strongest leader (followed by Giuliani) in the Globe poll, but McCain was viewed as “most trustworthy” and most experienced.

McCain still struggles with perceptions about his electability, however. When voters were asked who has the best chance of beating the Democratic candidate in 2008, 34% said Romney, 28% said Giuliani and 10% named McCain.

McCain has generated buzz among voters by collecting the endorsements of Manchester’s influential conservative Union-Leader newspaper, which circulates statewide -- and which McCain proudly touts in one of his television ads. The Portsmouth Herald on the state’s seacoast and the Salmon Press, which publishes 11 smaller newspapers around the state, also endorsed McCain. The senator even won the endorsement of Romney’s home state Boston Globe, which is widely-circulated in New Hampshire. Not to mention the Des Moines Register, which isn't.

Romney got walloped this weekend by the influential Concord Monitor newspaper. The editorial board called him “a disquieting figure who sure looks like the next president and most surely must be stopped.”

“If you followed only his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, you might imagine Romney as a pragmatic moderate with liberal positions on numerous social issues and an ability to work well with Democrats," the paper opined. "If you followed only his campaign for president, you'd swear he was a red-meat conservative, pandering to the religious right, whatever the cost. Pay attention to both, and you're left to wonder if there's anything at all at his core.”   

The McCain campaign sent that editorial to reporters Sunday morning –- just to make sure no one missed it. The Romney campaign dismissed the editorial board as “a liberal one on many issues” and said it was not surprising “they would criticize Governor Romney for his conservative views and platform."

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said in an interview Sunday morning with The Times' Maeve Reston that the campaign expects the race to “tighten at the top” as “some of the other candidates begin to fall back.” 

“We always predicted that New Hampshire was going be very competitive and that Iowa was going to be very competitive,” he said. “We feel we have a strong organization and that’s what can make a difference in a competitive race.”

Just last Monday, Romney’s chief target in New Hampshire remarks was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. But Romney's now shifted his sights to McCain as his threat level increased.

Romney is campaigning in the southern tier of New Hampshire today along the Massachusetts border. It's an area containing a trove of Republican-leaning voters who fled Massachusetts taxes and an area where Romney’s support is perceived to be strongest. Giuliani is on the other side of the state, stopping by an eatery on New Hampshire’s seacoast and a coffee house also close to the Massachusetts border.

By the way, here's McCain's rather unusual non-political Christmas message.

--Andrew Malcolm

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