PORTSMOUTH — Though he didn’t plan it this way, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain has returned to his primary roots.
Since he officially declared his candidacy at Prescott Park in Portsmouth in April, the Straight Talk Express bus has been sidelined due to a lack of campaign money.
McCain, the upset winner of the 2000 New Hampshire primary, is flying commercial to campaign stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and he travels with the smallest cadre of aides.
But McCain, who begins a three-day blitz of the state tonight with a town hall meeting in Merrimack and will be in Portsmouth and Rochester tomorrow, is enjoying the leaner campaign that requires him, literally, to carry his own bags — and deal with plenty of national media speculation that his candidacy is on the decline.
“There’s no question he’s happier,” said Mike Dennehy, McCain’s New Hampshire-based national political director. “We’re running more efficiently and getting him out in front of voters, which he’s good at and enjoys the most.”
Since the well-publicized major shake-up of his campaign staff last month, Dennehy told the Herald that McCain is running the type of small-event and direct-voter-contact campaign that fueled his 2000 New Hampshire primary triumph over then-Texas governor and GOP front-runner George W. Bush. Rather than run a costly national campaign, Dennehy said McCain is focusing on the early contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
As part of that new strategy, McCain will give a breakfast speech to a group of Seacoast-region business leaders this morning before heading to Rochester for a voter meet-and-greet at a real estate office. He will then go to town hall meetings in Conway and Wolfeboro and a house party in Milton.
“This is more John McCain style,” said Dennehy, who acknowledged the challenge the Arizona senator faces in the Republican primary against rivals such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who leads in all three early statewide polls, because of his overall name recognition in New Hampshire.
But Dennehy said negative speculation about McCain’s bid for the White House are par for the course in a long campaign. He said the campaign is raising more than enough money to run this type of campaign. And he’s not overly concerned about McCain’s ability to attract independent voters that helped him win in 2000 — though in the 2006 midterm elections, that voting bloc trended heavily toward the Democrats because of opposition to the Iraq war and dissatisfaction with the direction the country has taken under the Bush administration.
“When he talks to voters directly, it’s more than Iraq and immigration,” Dennehy said. “They are also concerned about taxes and spending, health care, and climate change. He is addressing issues that all voters care about.”