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McCain's Staff Says
He's Back on Track

That's the not-so-subtle message from a conference call this morning with his top campaign advisers, who announced the Arizona senator's first television commercials of the 2008 campaign -- a purchase that seemed all-but out of reach just a few months ago.

In July, when McCain's presidential campaign ran out of money and began shedding staff, a resurgence seemed unlikely. In the months that followed, McCain plunged in the national and early-state polls as his rivals continued to raise money, build daunting on-the-ground organizations and capture the media spotlight.

On the call, campaign manager Rick Davis did not reveal his candidate's financial position, something that will become clear by Sunday, when the books close for the third quarter. But he seemed far more optimistic about the future, saying that "we believe that we've got enough money to run a campaign that can be effective and can work."

That's what they all say, of course. But the purchase of the television and radio ads, which will begin running Sunday throughout New Hampshire, is an milestone that could mark the beginning of a comeback for the once-dominant front-runner.

The ads are largely biographical, focusing on the story of McCain's military service and his leadership skills during a time of war. The ads rotate between grainy, black and white images of McCain as a young soldier and red-white-and-blue scenes of him as a senator.

"One man sacrificed for his country. One man opposed a flawed strategy in Iraq. One man had the courage to call for change," an announcer says. The ads can be viewed at www.johnmccain.com/tvads/.

Davis said the ads will be played repeatedly during the next two weeks in New Hampshire, a state where McCain has had success. In 2000, he stunned then-candidate George Bush with a double-digit defeat. Davis said the campaign will "burn both of these ads in a way that most voters are going to see them over the next couple of weeks."

The decision to advertise now, Davis said, is driven by a sense of momentum for the struggling senator. His debate performance several weeks ago was well-reviewed. And a poll in New Hampshire released Wednesday shows him still in third, but gaining some ground.

Challenges remain, however. The campaign finance reports that are due Sunday will likely show McCain still lagging far behind his rivals. And McCain remains the underdog in most polls, where he trails former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and -- often -- former senator and actor Fred Thompson.

But Davis, who took over control of the campaign after the July staff shakeups, shrugged off the challenges this morning. "From our perspective, we sensed this progress was occurring and wanted to take the opportunity to capitalize on that," he said.

McCain is also becoming more aggressive on the campaign trail, taking aim not only at Democrats but also at his rivals.

In a speech to the Hudson Institute in New York, McCain took a swipe at Romney and Giuliani's credentials, saying that "tough talk or managerial successes in the private sector aren't adequate assurance that their authors have the experience or qualities necessary for such a singular responsibility."

Asked to elaborate on the distinction McCain was trying to draw, Davis said the senator was not attacking their lack of military service. "Sen. McCain has always said that people could serve their country in many ways," Davis said.

But he quickly added that the campaign does want to contrast the "different experiences" that the candidates for president have had.

"There is a difference between people who have this knowledge and this kind of experience and the kind of decisions they make and those that don't," Davis said. "People's credentials are going to be debated in this election."

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  September 27, 2007; 11:53 AM ET
 
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