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McCain Scores the Leader (Union That Is)

John McCain picked up what may be the most important endorsement of his presidential bid today: a front-page shout-out from the Manchester Union Leader, the state's biggest daily newspaper and an influential voice in the state's politics. The paper's publisher said Sunday that "John McCain is the man to lead America" and urged New Hampshire voters to cast a ballot for him in the state's Jan. 8 primary. In backing McCain, Joseph W. McQuaid wrote that "his record, his character, and his courage show him to be the most trustworthy, competent, and conservative of all those seeking the nomination."
For McCain, the endorsement is critical. His comeback campaign hinges entirely on New Hampshire, where he hopes to repeat his stunning upset of 2000, when he bested George W. Bush (despite not getting the Union Leader's nod, which went to flat-tax advocate Steve Forbes). Eight years later, he needs to strike a similar blow to his well-funded rivals or his campaign is probably over.
The Union Leader should be a big help. The paper no longer has the power it once did to set opinion in the state. For one thing, its opinion pages are still very conservative in a state that is changing. Like the rest of New England, a Democratic wave swept over New Hampshire in 2006, turning out many Republicans from the state legislature. But for voters who are likely to cast ballots in the Republican primary, it's still an admired voice.

In the editorial, McQuaid acknowledged not always agreeing with McCain, but said those differences were outweighed by the candidate's character and his positions on other issues. "McCain is pro-life. Always has been. He fights against special-interest and pork-barrel spending, and high spending in general, which ticks off liberals and many in the GOP who have wallowed at the public trough," the editorial says. "Yet he also has the proven ability, unique among the contenders, to work across the political divide that has led our government into petty bickering when important problems need to be solved."
"Simply put, McCain can be trusted to make informed decisions based on the best interests of his country, come hell or high water," the publisher wrote.
Even with the paper's endorsement, though, McCain's has quite a challenge in the next 36 days. He is trailing badly in Iowa's Jan. 3 caucus, meaning that one of his rivals is likely to emerge from that earlier contest with a surge of momentum coming into New Hampshire. Also, McCain is not in a two-man race in New Hampshire like he was in 2000, when a large number of voters wanted to cast an anti-Bush vote and used McCain as that vehicle.
This year, McCain is competing in New Hampshire with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. All of them will have money and each will make McCain's task in the state more difficult.
In addition, while McCain beat Bush amont Republican voters in 2000, his real feat was in scooping up so many independent votes. That may be more difficult this year, since independents may decide to vote in the Democratic primary that day instead of the Republican one.
The Union Leader editorial praised McCain's experience with foreign affairs as a key reason to vote for him during a time of war. "When McCain was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, he was repeatedly beaten," the editorial concluded. "When his captors discovered that his father was a top U.S. admiral, they ordered him released for propaganda purposes. But McCain refused, insisting that longer-held prisoners be released before him. So they beat him some more. He never gave in then, and he won't give in to our enemies now." -- Michael D. Shear

By Susan Glasser  |  December 2, 2007; 9:37 AM ET
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