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McCain looks to strategy focused on N.H.

Returning to New Hampshire's town halls, John McCain sought to remind people Saturday why they liked him during his first presidential run and why his troubled 2008 campaign is not done.
APTOPIX McCain 2008
Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, gets a standing ovation Friday after speaking in Concord, N.H.Cheryl Senter / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Returning to New Hampshire’s town halls, John McCain sought to remind people Saturday why they liked him during his first presidential run and why his troubled 2008 campaign is not done.

“There’s nobody that can stand between me and you. There’s nobody who can stop and filter my message to you. That’s why I’m confident we will do as we did in 2000,” the Republican senator from Arizona said while answering voters’ questions for more than an hour at an American Legion hall.

“We will campaign all over this state, doing the town hall meetings. Having questions, having answers. Some people might not be satisfied with the answer, even a little bit angry. But at least you’ll have had your input directly to me and my response directly to you,” he said.

McCain won the state’s primary in 2000, defeating then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush by 19 percentage points in a crucial early contest. McCain visited small gatherings in every town, answered questions in a freewheeling style, let reporters travel with him on his “Straight Talk Express.”

That bus now is parked for lack of money, symbolic of the troubles of a campaign that has shed its top leadership, posted abysmal fundraising totals and laid staffers in the past two weeks.

The “straight talk” remains.

“We’re going to be fine. I know how to campaign. I can win in New Hampshire, as I did in 2000. I never was going to rely on money to win this campaign. I’m not a very good fundraiser. I’ll admit it. But I can out-campaign any of these guys,” McCain said. “Any problems that I might have, it’s a failure on my part to act in the most responsible way.”

He added, “I’ve had tough times in my life. This is a day on the beach compared to some others,” said McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam.

‘Getting back to fundamentals’
McCain’s advisers say they won using McCain’s biography in 2000 and they can do it again.

“It’s not as much as update as getting back to fundamentals: typical grass-roots style campaigning, a lot of town hall meetings, Main Street walks in and out of small business, small intimate house parties,” said Mike Dennehy, who orchestrated McCain’s victory in New Hampshire in 2000. Dennehy on Thursday returned to the campaign as its national political director.

“It’s just getting in front of as many people as we can. That goes for Iowa and South Carolina. ... Eight years has been a long time. We need to remind them why they liked him.”

Part of the draw then was the almost-constant exposure. He went town to town in 1999, building support slowly, often speaking to fewer than a dozen visitors.

“It’s what he should’ve been doing from the start,” said Steve Duprey, a former state GOP chairman and current McCain co-chairman.

But New Hampshire has changed since McCain won here with major help from independent voters. Recent polling suggests most of those would-be supporters plan to vote in the Democratic primary, where the high-profile candidacies of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are drawing huge crowds.