Read John Dickerson's coverage of the New Hampshire Democratic primary here.
John McCain was looking at a television that appeared to be in the same credenza that he'd stood in front of eight years ago in a suite at the Nashua Crowne Plaza. The AP had called the election for him, but he didn't look like he believed it. He wanted to hear it from the television. When he did, McCain showed no visible emotion. His wife Cindy's eyes filled with tears, but McCain did little more than play with the green rubber band around his left hand. A cheer erupted in the room, filled with many of the same advisers who had been there eight years ago. "Great news," said McCain, finally turning to kiss his wife, who wore a jeweled McCain 2008 pin on the lapel of her ruby-red jacket.
McCain's speechwriter and co-author Mark Salter leaned over to me and smiled, "Too tough to die."
He was supposed to die last summer after a brutal staff shakeup and spending almost all the money he'd raised. To revive himself, he rented a cheaper, smellier bus than he'd driven around when he was the high-flying front-runner. He returned to New Hampshire for an endless round of town halls of the kind that had led to his surprise victory in 2000. "We sure showed them what a comeback looks like," said McCain in his acceptance speech.
Conventional wisdom was wrong. McCain did not lose a big share of independents to Barack Obama. As many independents voted in the GOP primary as did in 2000. McCain led his rivals with more than one-third of their backing. Proving he hasn't lost his appeal to middle-of-the-road voters will help his argument that he's the most electable Republican in November. He also won Republican voters. Winning in the GOP—particularly in the face of Romney's attacks on his immigration and tax-cut positions—will help McCain argue that he is also a party favorite.
For Mitt Romney, the night was another tough blow. New Hampshire was supposed to give him his second win in the discarded momentum strategy that had him sealing the nomination after two early wins. The Olympics may have been easier to rescue. "He can't sell himself," said McCain's ally Lindsey Graham, summing up Romney's problem.
As McCain's advisers planned for the concession call from Mitt Romney, he took a call from his oldest son, a midshipman at the Naval Academy:
"Jack Boy. Boy we won," he said into the cell phone.
"Ways to go. Ways to go."
"OK, now back to your studies."