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Support in New Hampshire for war? McCain hopes so

January 06, 2008|DON FREDERICK AND ANDREW MALCOLM

Not so long ago, it would have been unimaginable that full-throated support for the larger troop presence in Iraq could be considered a political asset in New Hampshire, where discontent with the war's course fueled sweeping Democratic gains in the 2006 midterm election.

But Sen. John McCain clearly believes the significant drop in U.S. casualties has altered political dynamics.

With McCain battling not only fellow Republicans in New Hampshire but also Barack Obama in the fight for the state's precious independent vote -- folks who can cast a ballot in either primary -- he is stealing a page from the Illinois Democrat and casting himself as the real "agent of change."

And one of the key points he spotlights is his long-standing support for increased U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

The Arizona senator, in comments to bloggers, said he was "very proud" he had pushed and pushed the Bush administration to adopt what's known as the "surge" strategy. He returned to that theme frequently during the conversation, at one point saying the changed policy had "saved America's most precious resource" -- the lives of soldiers.

Internal Romney debate

Here they are, these famous people indefatigably running to become president of the United States. And they're learning all these important issues and debating foreign policy and how to salvage Social Security, and fix illegal immigration and so many other complexities.

And in between public appearances they're inside a small jet zipping around from small city to small city. Walking toward the back of the plane is candidate Mitt Romney and advisor-friend Ron Kaufman. They look serious. They need help. They want the handful of reporters, including The Times' Robin Abcarian, to settle an issue -- and $100 is riding on it.

"What movie was the song 'Que Sera Sera' from?" Romney asks.

" 'The King and I'?" suggests Kaufman.

But before you can say "Google," a young woman's voice pipes up, "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

As the two men walk away, Romney can be heard saying to Kaufman:

"Put it on my tab."

Iowa's historic lessons

The Iowa caucuses first gained a modicum of national attention in 1972, when a surprisingly strong second-place finish by Democratic insurgent George McGovern helped chart his course to a presidential nomination. Four years later, Iowa's profile spiked when Jimmy Carter built his early momentum there (though technically, he did not finish first in the night's voting).

Since then, the caucuses have been irrelevant in contested races only once -- in 1992. One of Iowa's own senators, Tom Harkin, sought the Democratic nomination that year, causing his rivals to cede the state to him and focus on New Hampshire.

And among the Republicans, Pat Buchanan took a pass on the caucuses, choosing New Hampshire as the initial battleground in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to derail then-President George H.W. Bush.

Sometimes, winning in Iowa has proved only a momentary triumph for a candidate who eventually fell by the wayside.

But the last time -- in both parties -- an Iowa winner in a competitive contest failed to capture the nomination prize was in 1988.

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Here are the top finishers in those races:

Democrats

2004: John F. Kerry* (38%), John Edwards (32%).

2000: Al Gore* (63%), Bill Bradley (37%)

1988: Dick Gephardt (31%), Paul Simon (27%), Michael Dukakis* (22%)

1984: Walter Mondale* (49%), Gary Hart (17%)

1980: Jimmy Carter* (59%), Ted Kennedy (31%)

1976: "Uncommitted" (37%), Jimmy Carter* (28%)

1972: Edmund Muskie (36%), George McGovern* (23%)

Republicans

2000: George W. Bush* (41%), Steve Forbes (30%)

1996: Bob Dole* (26%), Pat Buchanan (23%)

1988: Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H.W. Bush* (19%)

1984: Ronald Reagan unopposed

1980: George H.W. Bush (32%), Ronald Reagan* (30%)

1976: Gerald Ford* defeats Ronald Reagan (numbers not available)

* Eventual nominee

Ron Paul beats Giuliani

OK, he didn't get the third place that Ron Paul said he thought his campaign might reach in Iowa. He got fifth, 10%. Which is better than the 4% that Rudolph W. Giuliani got. But then like most Americans, Rudy didn't put that much effort into campaigning in Iowa.

The next big test comes Tuesday in New Hampshire, where the libertarian-like license plate -- Live Free or Die -- gives Paulunteers hope they might score an even larger surprise. Everybody except Fred Thompson has put serious efforts into the Granite State.

John McCain, who won New Hampshire in 2000, seems to be closing in on Mitt Romney there. Rudy is trying hard. Iowa GOP caucus winner Mike Huckabee will campaign there, but without the large cadre of resident Christian evangelicals he had in Iowa, he's trailing and hoping for Baptist help come South Carolina.

Richardson's spin

We have to give Bill Richardson credit for trying to make the best of a bad situation -- and attempting to expand the political vocabulary.

The traditional saying is that there are "three tickets out of Iowa" -- meaning that a presidential candidate who does not finish first, second or third in Iowa's caucuses might as well pack it in. Richardson ran fourth in Thursday night's Democratic contest . . . and insisted that being part of the "Final Four" was good enough.

Richardson, in his bid to become the nation's first Latino president, worked Iowa hard. During the summer, he showed some movement in the polls, but eventually became one of the afterthoughts in a race dominated by the jockeying among Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Richardson got crushed in the caucuses, garnering only 2% of the vote. But that put him slightly ahead of Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Christopher J. Dodd, both of whom responded to their poor showings by folding their tents. It was enough for him to pledge to carry on to New Hampshire.

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Excerpted from The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes.com/topoftheticket

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