They say you can’t come home again, but Granite Staters who turned out to see the Straight Talk Express roar into New Hampshire this weekend, would probably disagree. If the response McCain received is any indication, the John McCain of 2000 is back.
When I arrived in Manchester and began the drive north to meet up with McCain’s bus, I wasn’t sure what to expect. McCain had surprised George W. Bush in New Hampshire eight years ago, but since then a lot has changed. What I found was a candidate who received a hero’s welcome.
Perhaps more impressive; McCain displayed the energy and intensity of someone half his age. The entire day, save for maybe 5 minutes, he was “on the record” and under the microscope. Even during “lunch,” he choked down a grilled hotdog with mustard in the back of the bus, while we “grilled” him about campaign finance reform.
His schedule would have been rigorous for even a twenty-five year old. When I asked McCain about the stress of constantly being “on,” he told me: “This is the fun part!”
While McCain obviously enjoys campaigning, he confesses that he does not like raising money. In fact, his staff confirms that Mitt Romney will have out-raised McCain when the March 31 reports are filed (Romney's team denies this).
ON THE STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS, McCain has no handlers. No consultants or staffers interrupt him to explain to us “what the Senator meant to say…,” or that “the Senator needs to get some rest.”
In between questions, he signs books to be auctioned off (on this occasion, it was for a local New Hampshire charity), and fields questions on topics ranging from Vietnam to sports (he’s a basketball fan who can rattle off countless stats).
I asked him if he would have an Abraham Lincoln style “team of rivals” cabinet or stick with loyalists, as President Bush has. His response was that he’d try to bring in some smart business leaders from outside of politics.
Of course, I couldn’t resist asking about campaign finance reform. He clearly doesn’t like this question, but says that the fact a blogger (such as myself) is on the bus is an example of how free speech is alive and well. Bottom line; he’s convinced campaign finance reform is a good thing. This is, perhaps, the only time the normally unexpurgated McCain refuses to elaborate. As National Journal’s Marc Ambinder reported on National Journal’s On Call blog: