Entries from Jan 2008

‘This Is It’

Dismissed as an also-ran just a few weeks ago, Sen. John McCain is back, and fighting toward the finish.

Mike Barnicle


Updated: 4:38 PM ET Jan 3, 2008

Oh, he sure has had a long, interesting life, filled with joy and pain and defined in part by a nearly six years of captivity after he fell from the sky in 1967 fighting a war where so many young died to satisfy the criminal pride of old politicians. And here he is now, bouncing from hamlet to town hall to house parties to VFW Posts in a state where people of all political stripes seem to truly like him, almost always wearing a smile that declares he’s glad to be alive and well in a country he loves more than the job he seeks: the presidency.

“I realize it’s my last time around the track,” said Sen. John McCain, sitting on his campaign bus. “I know this is it.” He is 71, back from the dead after being counted as a casualty of a political war that devours candidates who lack the ammunition called money. His near-fatal failure happened after his candidacy was clobbered by those who fear illegal immigrants more than the eternal flame of true terrorism.

But politics–despite 21st-century sophistication, numerous polls, thousands of blogs that have created a nation of 300 million columnists as well as the constant tide of information spilled across the Internet, cable TV and talk radio–remains a people business in the precincts of New Hampshire. And as voters got a good look at the field of candidates, many clearly decided to give McCain a second glance.

“I think he tells more of the truth than the others do,” said Ed Bell, a 48-year-old salesman, after attending a McCain event. “And he knows what it’s like to be hurt, too. He’s a real human being.”

McCain is the Babe Ruth of town-hall meetings; he does them better than anyone. At VFW Post 8641 in Merrimack, N.H., it was 60 minutes of theater-in-the-round, with the Arizona senator energetically pacing the floor, microphone in one hand, ballpoint in the other, talking, laughing, taking questions, telling stories, giving answers; every second and each physical movement–some limited by injury–a reminder that while Mitt Romney runs ads hammering him on immigration and taxes, McCain remains unafraid of his beliefs.

“Why are you in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants?” a woman at the back of hall asked.

“I’m not,” McCain told her.

“I was informed you were,” she insisted.

“You were misinformed,” he told her.

“People know a desperate campaign when they see one,” McCain said later about Romney as he sat eating a hot dog and talking about the December welterweight title bout he saw on TV when Floyd Mayweather Jr. beat Ricky Hatton to retain the title. “He’s got maybe the fastest hands I’ve ever seen,” McCain said of the prizefighter.

Like Mayweather, McCain has a fighter’s heart. Part of him enjoys a hostile question and the occasional antagonist. After all, he’s faced tougher interrogators than those who come at him with a press pass or an ideological difference. McCain sports the roll-the-dice attitude of a guy thrilled to see each sunrise, who has learned to live with disappointment and put bitterness in the rearview mirror. Yet, he has the humility of someone quite aware that each day is a blessing because for him, so many were, quite literally, torture.

Now, McCain will return to New Hampshire from Iowa, fully alive again in a uniquely American process that saw his political obituary posted just months ago. He is back because he did not quit–not when he fell from the sky all those years ago, and certainly not when he fell out of favor in the days before voters began paying true attention and measuring character as one of the ingredients in the making of a president.

Mike Barnicle has been a newspaper columnist in Boston for 30 years and is a commentator forMSNBC.