John McCain's Straight-Talk Express - a not-so luxury bus - has been rattling along the highways and bi-ways of New Hampshire for five straight days from one town hall meeting to the next. And now it seems to be bearing the veteran candidate to a win among Republicans in the state's primary voting.
Eve-of-voting polls showed McCain, in spite of being written off by pundits in the summer because of a dearth of cash and lack of voter enthusiasm, replicating his success here in 2000 when he defeated George W. Bush. His main rival, the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, seemed to be slipping.
McCain, 71, has maintained a vigorous schedule of town hall appearances where he quickly opened up the floor to questions. With a willingness to engage in debate on any topic that arises, he seemed to have won the appreciation of many Republicans as well as independents.
"I was thinking about supporting Romney," Violet Despres, 77, admitted emerging from a McCain event in the picturesque town hall of Peterborough in the south of the state. "I had been worried about McCain's health, but I liked him today. And you know what? He looked plenty healthy to me."
A win by McCain and also, as the polls suggested, by the Democrat Barack Obama, would set up the possibility of an intriguing generational clash. While the former is veteran of the Vietnam War, Obama, at 46, represents the succeeding generation.
A Fox News poll yesterday showed McCain opening a seven-point lead over Romney, picking up 14 points since the last Fox poll in New Hampshire in December.
"I don't think I've ever had a town hall meeting where I didn't try to listen to everybody," McCain told a standing-room-only crowd in Salem. "And that's why, frankly, my friends, that's why we're winning this campaign. This is what democracy is all about."