MANCHESTER, N.H. — John McCain returned Wednesday to this state that twice salvaged his White House aspirations and implored voters here to come through for him again on Election Day.
"I know one thing for certain, it doesn't matter what the pundits said or how confident my opponent is," McCain told about 3,000 supporters who packed a college ice-hockey arena. "The people of New Hampshire make their own decisions, and more than once, they've ignored the polls and the pundits and brought me across the finish line first.
"I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be as Election Day draws close than running an underdog campaign in New Hampshire," he added.
However, a third time might not be the charm for McCain in the Granite State. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama leads McCain in New Hampshire by 9.4 points, according to an average of recent polls published by RealClearPolitics.com.
In addition, New Hampshire is becoming more Democratic. Democrats hold the state's two congressional seats, the governorship, and both houses of the state legislature. Since 2006, Democratic Party voter rolls have increased by 20 percent while Republican rolls have grown by only six percent.
McCain's campaign arrived in New Hampshire fending off reports that it's curtailing its advertising here, a potential signal that McCain is pulling up stakes.
"You talk about McCain's special bond here, but he's lost ground here and he's lost it everywhere," said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor. "McCain had a better chance of claiming New Hampshire than any other Republican, but he's not doing any better than a generic Republican at the top of the ticket."
McCain forged a bond here with many voters with his Straight Talk Express bus tours during the state's 2000 Republican presidential primary.
Outmatched by rival George W. Bush's money and organization, McCain boarded a tour bus and invited reporters aboard for a non-stop, candid, no-holds-barred, sometimes bawdy, talk fest on politics, sports, or whatever else was on his mind.
The free media attracted by the bus tour — coupled with lackluster campaigning by Bush — helped McCain score an upset over Bush in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire again gave McCain another GOP primary victory this year after his campaign had been deemed all but dead when it ran out of money months before the first ballots were cast.
Rather than quit the race, McCain shed staff, streamlined his operation, hopped back aboard the Straight Talk Express and conducted a relentless campaign schedule, exactly the kind that New Hampshire voters appreciate — and expect — from their candidates.
Some of his supporters believe that history can repeat itself.
"Personally, it was great to see him here today, but I wish he didn't waste his time here because he's going to take 60 percent in New Hampshire. He needs to focus on Ohio and Florida," said Mike Raymond, a New Hampshire volunteer for McCain, on Fox News Radio. "Hillary (Clinton) won the (Democratic) primary and there are a lot of angry Hillary people out there."
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