Angling for a Little of That 2000 Magic
By Juliet Eilperin
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. -- John McCain held his 100th town hall meeting of his New Hampshire campaign here on Saturday, a booking that was intended to prompt a sense of deja vu among the savvier political junkies in the state.
McCain recorded the same milestone in Peterborough during the 2000 campaign, during his march to winning the New Hampshire primary, and Mark Salter, a top aide, said, "We're superstitious." McCain's return visit at lunchtime drew so many that dozens of voters and reporters were left out in the cold, blocked by the fire marshal in order to prevent overcrowding.
McCain said that seeing the standing room-only crowd "is a kind of very nostalgic visit for us. ... It seems like eight years ago."
He appeared at ease as he answered a range of questions, including some about immigration, which continues to be an obstacle to him winning over some New Hampshire voters. He yet again pointed to Sen. Joseph Lieberman's (I-Conn.) statement during a Thursday town hall that anyone who suggests McCain backs amnesty of illegal immigrants was repeating "a lie."
Betty Billipp, an 83-year-old Peterborough resident and registered Republican, came with her 85-year-old husband Gordon, an independent, and said she felt comforted by his answer on immigration. "He said he would secure the borders but then we have to have a plan for the 12 million people who are here, and it has to have compassion. What are you going to do with 12 million souls?" she said. "Americans are compassionate, but we can't have any more illegal people coming in and using our services."
That topic also interested several residents stuck outside, who said they were disappointed that they wouldn't be able to hear the senator speak directly to the issue.
"I want to hear what he really has to say about the immigration and amnesty laws. I think he's been taken out of context. That issue is really important to people my age, and in my socio-economic class," said Terry Shell, a registered independent from Rindge, N.H. Shell is considering voting for Mitt Romney but questions his lack of foreign policy credentials.
Fellow Rindge resident Beverly Jeffers, another independent, said she was inclined to back McCain.
"I'm looking at experience. I really think it's extremely important we have someone who knows about foreign policy now," said Jeffers, adding she also likes Barack Obama's message but questions if he is ready to become president. When it comes to McCain, she said, "I just don't think anyone has the experience he has."
McCain rebuffed Romney's assertion that he was a Washington insider "I have been the agent of change. It was not an accident that I wasn't elected Miss Congeniality in the Senate," he said.
And he declined to identify himself as the heir of either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush's legacy. "I view myself as president for the twenty-first century who is the best equipped to face the challenge of radical Islamic extremism," he told reporters.
Several of McCain's supporters came out to stump for the senator, including Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who said McCain was best positioned in the GOP field to capitalize on voters' desire for reform.
"You've got a mood in the country that wants change, and he exemplifies change," Shays said, adding that when it comes to Romney, "The only thing I know about him and change is he keeps changing his position."
Shays added, however, that the voters' desire for change could pose a problem for McCain if too many independents feel compelled to cast a vote for Obama instead of McCain on Tuesday.
"That's a big concern," Shays said. "If too many of them go on the Democratic line to help Obama, that hurts John."
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