McCain Trounces Bush in NH GOP Contest

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

Manchester, NH (CNSNews.com) - Arizona Senator John McCain not only defeated Texas Governor George W Bush by a wide margin in Tuesday's New Hampshire presidential primary - he did so among all categories of voters.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, McCain had 114,047 votes, or 49 percent, to Bush's 71,492 votes, or 31 percent.

Steve Forbes -- despite the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader and his ability to spend freely -- managed to garner only 29,945 votes, or 13 percent, while Alan Keyes got 15,078 votes or 6 percent; and Gary Bauer, only 1,653 votes or 1 percent.

At times during the evening vote count, Bush operatives, including Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) seemed stunned by what was happening, even though early afternoon exit polls indicted it was going to be a tough finish for the governor.

Not only did McCain win the Independent vote by a three to one margin over Bush -- a much greater margin than either camp believed possible -- he also emerged the winner among GOP regulars, edging Bush 45-35 percent in that category. Bush was expected to dominate the party regulars, given the support of Gregg, U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass and the state's two Republican National Committee members, Tom Rath and Ruth Griffin.

With the exception of former New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman, McCain had few major GOP endorsements.

What McCain did have was his maverick reputation and war hero background, along with a willingness to hold 114 town meetings in every corner of the Granite State. McCain used those many two-hour sessions to do what New Hampshire voters have come to expect from candidates - that is, to make themselves accessible and to engage in retail politics.

McCain used his many town meetings as a way to connect with voters, taking any and all questions from audience members. For his part, Bush held carefully staged events and took only a few questions from any audience.

In his victory speech, McCain jokingly told a room packed with cheering supporters, "I think we finally have a poll without a margin of error."

Then, turning serious, the senator said, "The Washington triangle of big money, lobbyists and legislation...for too long has placed special interests above the national interests... Thanks to you, we've sent a powerful message to Washington that change is coming...it's the beginning of the end of the truth-busting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore."

With his wife and children by his side, McCain described his campaign as "a national crusade to take our government back and return it to the people." He said, "A wonderful New Hampshire campaign has come to an end, but a great national crusade has just begun."

A somber looking George W. Bush, also surrounded by family members, including his wife and twin daughters, congratulated McCain on his New Hampshire primary victory. He insisted, "We fought the good fight," and said, "I'm proud of my supporters and the kind of campaign we conducted in New Hampshire."

Bush acknowledging that "New Hampshire is a bump in the road for front runners and this year is no exception. The road to the White House is a long road...and I intend to end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

Addressing the fact that McCain spent 73 days in New Hampshire - more than twice as much time as Bush spent in the state -- Bush told supporters, "Mine is a campaign in every state in America, because mine is a message for every American." He then repeated whole sections of his "Compassionate Conservative" stump speech.

In recent weeks, some Republican activists have quietly faulted Bush for seldom, if ever, getting beyond that speech, and last night, several Republicans insisted his failure to do so may have contributed to his overwhelming loss.

Despite his poor showing, Bush urged his supporters not to loose heart. "I like my chances in Delaware, and South Carolina is Bush country," he told them, looking ahead to other contests.

Ironically, the Bush campaign bus in New Hampshire bore the slogan, "New Hampshire is Bush country."

Several Bush supporters grudgingly admitted McCain's strategy to skip the Iowa caucus and concentrate on New Hampshire was a smart move. "It worked. He avoided Iowa and came here," said Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, a strong Bush supporter. "But, we have not yet headed into areas where Gov. Bush is strong ... New Hampshire likes to upset the apple cart. This state wants to make candidates work for the nomination."

"He [McCain] stunned everybody," said New Hampshire GOP Chairman Steve Duprey. "When you win by this dimension, it's a challenge for Bush."

Asked if McCain can "pull it out" and win his party's nomination, Duprey responded, "He can do it...a McCain win in South Carolina means all bets are off. John McCain connected with the people of this state. No question about it."

"The aura of invincibility is gone," said one high ranking New Hampshire Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The governor must be careful. This could turn out to be a brand new ball game."

"We're very encouraged, "said Mike Dennehy, McCain's New England political director. "We got our supporters out today, including Republican Party regulars."

Then, sounding like his boss, Dennehy added, "The message is that reform is taking hold...the coronation (of Bush) is off...people are tired of the status quo."

Even Democratic operatives were impressed with the size of McCain's win.

"He's a phenomenon, a very compelling candidate," said Joe Keefe, a Gore operative, a twice-defeated congressional candidate and a former Democratic Party chairman. "It will be interesting to see where this ends."