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McCain Pulls Off New Hampshire Triumph

TOVIA SMITH: I'm Tovia Smith.

John McCain ended his New Hampshire campaign hitting the same places and promising the same straight talk as he did eight years ago. And although he didn't win the same kind of landslide as he did in 2000, he did emerge with a clear and critical victory.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Sen. JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): I talked to the people of New Hampshire, I reasoned with you, I listen to you, I answered you. Sometimes, I argued with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. McCAIN: But I always told you the truth is best I can see the truth and you did me the great honor of listening.

SMITH: Listening, especially, where independents, who make up more than 45 percent of New Hampshire voters, like Manchester business owner Keith Hershman(ph).

Mr. KEITH HERSHMAN (Businessman, Manchester, New Hampshire): He still stands for what he stood for in 2000. He hasn't changed. He's a strong leader and he says things that people don't want to hear sometimes but he says them. He's a maverick in the Senate. That's his record.

SMITH: You think he's older now?

Mr. HERSHMAN: He's older, he's 71.

SMITH: You think he still got it?

Mr. HERSHMAN: Yeah. I saw him on Elm Street yesterday with his wife. He's got it more than I do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: McCain's win revives his campaign that it basically run out of money, staff and steam. With the momentum now back on his side, McCain vowed to win the next contest in Michigan - a state he also won eight years ago but a state where he will face another tough fight from Mitt Romney.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): I have a sister here, Lynn. Lynn, where are you? Oh, she's already going to Michigan to get some votes. All right.

SMITH: Romney and his sister, Lynn, grew up in Michigan, where their father was governor and is still well thought of. Conceding defeat last night, Romney insisted he was in the race for the long haul, with what he called a 50-state strategy and he tried again to make the case that he's the only outsider and proven manager who can bring about the change that voters want.

Mr. ROMNEY: Sending insiders back to Washington just to change different chairs, that's not going to get the job done. I think you have to have somebody from outside Washington who has proven that he can get the job done in one setting after another and is...

SMITH: Romney spoke just briefly and smiled through what had to be a painful loss in his own backyard. No Republican has ever gone on to win the party's nomination after losing both Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, Romney is reportedly planning changes in his campaign to take more control of himself and loosen up a little. While he's got the super smooth stump speech, the impressive resume and the perfect family to go with it, Romney has so far failed to really bond the way he needs to with voters, like 69-year-old businessman John Herot(ph). Herot cast his ballot yesterday for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who finished well back in the pack.

Mr. JOHN HEROT (Businessman, New Hampshire): I think Romney is a great manager, he's proven it, right? But we need a leader, not a manager. Romney's competent but not inspiring.

SMITH: Another voter, who called Romney took pre-packaged, went instead for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee - the Iowa winner who last night celebrated his third-place New Hampshire finish. That keeps Huckabee alive heading in to Michigan and South Carolina, a state that should be more hospitable to his religious values message that had little sway in New Hampshire.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): We thought that if we could finish in the top - we kept saying four or five. We'd feel pretty good about that knowing just how tough it's been to try to break through. But tonight, you've given us so much more than we could've imagined just a few days or weeks ago.

SMITH: In fact, it had to be hard for all of the candidates to imagine how much they'd be helped or hurt by this year's super condensed primary schedule. With just five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, Huckabee was still riding his post-Iowa bounds and Romney could barely begin to recover from his surprising loss. This time, the winners and losers will have a whole week before the next contest.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.