Senator John McCain knows New Hampshire voters, that much is clear when he immediately references the legendary story of the Granite State voter that, when asked if he planned to support Mo Udall in the 1976 presidential primary, responded “I don’t know, I’ve only met him twice.”
“I’m seeing a lot of energy and a lot of interest but I also believe that typical of New Hampshire there’s a lot of voters that haven’t made up their minds until they feel that they have had a full examination of the candidates,” said McCain, as he traveled the state on behalf of Mitt Romney and Ovide Lamontagne on Thursday and Friday, hosting several town hall meetings with NH Senator Kelly Ayotte.
Discussing the presidential race at large, McCain credited Mitt Romney’s strong first debate performance for his surge in the polls; the most recent Gallup poll has Romney leading President Barack Obama by seven points.
“It wasn’t just a debate victory; it was a destruction of the image that all the negative ads of the Obama campaign had built up over those months while Mitt was going through a very tough primary season,” explained McCain, “We watched as those negative ads – particularly in swing states – drove Mitt’s unfavorables up, so that was one thing that was so important about that first debate. The second thing that was so important was the inability of Obama to defend his economic record, which he still hasn’t been able to do.”
Moving on to Tuesday’s debate, in which most pundits and members of the media gave Obama credit for a strong performance, McCain acknowledges that the President had improved, but pointed out several key flaws in the substance of his remarks:
“He certainly didn’t defend his economic record, and the underlying numbers in the polls show that undecided voters gave a strong advantage on the economy to Mitt Romney. The other point, I think, is that in the last question – the whole issue of Libya – the President never answered the question. The President never answered the question about why those warnings were not heeded for increased security for the facility in Benghazi,” he said, referring to the attack on the American consulate that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department personnel.
McCain also spoke from his experience debating Obama, pointing out a potential style weakness in his most recent debate performance that the talking heads may have overlooked – his likability factor. “The President is very well liked by Americans, and so the issue is of course the economy and jobs, but he also might have reduced his likability by being as combative as he was to Mitt in that debate.”
Turning to Granite State politics, McCain gave his take on the extremely competitive gubernatorial contest between Lamontagne and Democrat Maggie Hassan. Speaking about Ovide’s strategy in these final weeks leading up to Election Day, McCain said, “I do think that one of the underlying principles of this state is not increasing taxes…obviously I think he’s going to emphasize that. I think he’s going to emphasize his community service, and I think that he’s going to really make a strong argument that he has the qualifications to steer the state on a safe fiscal course.”
Lamontagne’s campaign has indeed been emphasizing the tax issue, with Friday marking their 38th edition of ‘Maggie’s Tax of the Day,’ which highlight the multitude of tax and fee increases Hassan supported during her terms in the State Senate.
Finally, regarding the United States Senate and the plethora of tense races across the country that will decide whether control remains in the hands of the Democrats or switches over to the Republicans, McCain gave his characteristically unvarnished take:
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I could give you the propaganda line that I’m happy with everything, but I think there are too many states that are relatively up for grabs,” he said, citing Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio as examples of contests that are polling within the margin of error.
“I just think its too close to call,” said the veteran Arizona Senator and two-time First-in-the-Nation Primary winner, “I think we might be up late on election night, not only on the presidential race but also on who controls the United States Senate.”