Jeff Jacoby

Mitt Romney has been thought for months to have the New Hampshire primary in the bag. But one vote he didn't have locked up until Wednesday was that of Steve Rowe, a Vietnam-era veteran who spent much of the 1970s aboard the USS Saratoga, a US Navy supercarrier.

Like a lot of New Hampshire residents, Rowe headed into the final week before the presidential primary still unsure whom to support. It was only the endorsement of another Navy vet -- US Senator John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee -- that moved Rowe into the Romney camp.

Rowe showed up early Thursday morning, camera in hand, for a Romney town hall meeting at the Boys and Girls Club here. It wasn't the former Massachusetts governor he wanted a picture of, but the former war hero. "Now that McCain's behind Romney, he'll pull a lot of votes from people like me," Rowe predicted.

That, of course, is what Romney and his staff are hoping. McCain has long been a favorite of New Hampshire Republicans and independents: He crushed George W. Bush in the state's 2000 primary and beat Romney in 2008. And thanks to his brave record as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, McCain -- though a frequent thorn in the GOP's right side -- has retained lasting respect even in his party's more conservative circles. (Which explains why, after endorsing Romney in New Hampshire, McCain flew with him to campaign in South Carolina.)

But there are limits to McCain's influence, even among Republican voters who served in Vietnam.

John Anderson, a nuclear engineer from Pittsburg, NH, was the first on his feet with a question for Newt Gingrich when the former speaker visited Littleton, a town in the White Mountains near New Hampshire's border with Vermont. Gingrich had repeated his description of Romney as a "legitimate Massachusetts moderate," ticking off the issues -- from gun control to health care to judicial appointments -- on which Romney had disappointed conservatives during his term as governor.

"You call him a moderate, and that's being generous," boomed Anderson, a retired Air Force officer who was involved in Operation Ranch Hand against the Viet Cong in 1965. "And as a Vietnam vet, I was pretty upset with a certain person that endorsed him the other day."

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for