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A familiar face in the back of the plane

August 14, 2007 |  2:24 am

Not many folks seemed to notice yesterday morning as passengers--vacationers and business people--clambered on board U.S. Airways Flight 3027 in a people-packing, overhead bin-cramming, seatbelt-fastening ritual that happens thousands of times a day across the country.

The flight was half an hour late; aren't they all these days?

This flight was going from Washington to Columbia, S.C. It was cramped in there; aren't they all these days? And there, sitting among everybody else like anybody else was a man who would be leader of the free world, a would-be president of the United States, Republican candidate John McCain. He was beginning yet another two-day campaign swing that will continue this morning.

As Steve Holland of Reuters reports, McCain drew little notice from his fellow passengers. He walked through the Columbia airport virtually unnoticed. And got a warm reception at this month's meeting of the Rotary Club. "This is what elections and politics in America should be all about--face-to-face meetings," McCain told the crowd, "not who can buy the most media."

McCain is making a virtue out of necessity. He can't buy media himself. His fundraising is limp. He travels with a lone aide, no more entourage, no more charter planes. His poll numbers have fallen. But not the spirit of the man who survived six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

"I'm going to be the next president of the United States," he says, "because I can out-campaign any of them." He dismisses straw polls as meaningless. On immigration reform, he now emphasizes border security first before any temporary guest worker program, a switch in emphasis he repeated on last night's "O'Reilly Factor." On Iraq he still supports the troop buildup, says we are winning militarily while Iraqi political reforms lag.

He's a tough, gritty guy and even veteran political reporters decline to write McCain's chances off. If he does cling to any comeback chance, it'll be because of his stubbornly determined presentations at small gatherings like the one in Columbia. And all the others he vows to keep doing in the coming days.

--Andrew Malcolm

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