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CAMPAIGN '08: FINAL PUSH IN NEW HAMPSHIRE / JOHN McCAIN

Following his own steps in hopes of repeating the past

January 08, 2008|Maeve Reston

KEENE, N.H. — No letup in the last hours

After Iowa, change is in the air in New Hampshire. In the Democratic primary, Barack Obama's emphasis on change has suddenly made him the candidate to beat. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee has a tall order in replicating his win, but this has forced Mitt Romney to alter his tactics and helped revive John McCain's chances. A look at the front-runners on their last full day of campaigning in New Hampshire:

REPUBLICANS

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John mccain's long affair with New Hampshire began in the summer of 1999, when he bribed voters to meet him with the promise of ice cream sundaes.

Only seven showed up, McCain recalled with nostalgia Monday. But he patiently answered their questions, showing the maverick edge that many New Hampshire voters came to love -- and that brought him triumph on primary day in 2000.

He faced a rocky road this year, as voters abandoned him over his contrarian stances on immigration and the Iraq war. But patience again appeared to pay off. On Monday, many of those who spurned him returned to his rallies in what the candidate called "the long trip back."

The crowds built in a wave over seven rallies in 12 hours as McCain raced through the state's southern tier, to its western edge, along the Vermont-New Hampshire border, to the Capitol, and finally to the seacoast. The superstitious candidate insisted on virtually replicating his 2000 pre-primary agenda, staying in the same hotel suite and planning his victory party for the same spot tonight as in 2000.

He woke early Monday, excited by the polls and a good performance in the previous night's debate where, he said, he managed to avoid a "food fight" with chief rival Mitt Romney.

"I'm going to win tomorrow, and I'm going to win because of the judgment that's made of the people of this state," the Arizona senator said at a rally in Keene.

In his closing argument, the former Navy pilot and prisoner of war asked voters to remember the threat of Islamic extremism and how he would fight it. "We will never, ever surrender, and they will," he said.

On his bus, the "Straight Talk Express," the 71-year-old admitted it was a bittersweet day -- possibly his last run through the state.

"I've learned about the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the people of this state and America, and I can't tell you what a wonderful and unforgettable memory that I will have of . . . traveling this state from one end to the other," he said.

-- Maeve Reston

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