McCain Post-New Hampshire Conference Call (Live Blog)

John McCain Phone Call Photo McCain called in from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was obviously “gratified” by the result, which he attributed to “straight talk.” “The people of New Hampshire believe town hall meetings matter.”

He also thinks his “No Surrender Tour,” which helped beat back funding cuts for the troops in Iraq, won him some respect.

Q&A:

    Eric Erickson, RedState: Whether he agreed with Tom Coburn on the need to investigate earmarks and would support executive order cutting them out of the budget.

    McCain: Coburn has “torn the crown of Miss Congeniality in the Senate from my grasp” and has his greatest admiration. People “sick and tired of wasteful spending.”

    Senator Lindsey Graham is campaigning with him and interrupted him, generating some amusing byplay about what an unstable individual Graham is.

    Jennifer Rubin, Human Events: Exit polls showed voters liked thought he’d be best commander-in-chief and thought Romney’s attacks were unfair. Did he feel vindicated.

    McCain: Nah, “politics ain’t beanbag” and “I understand how tough politics are.” “I wouldn’t use the word ‘unfair.” As to the first, “The major reason I’m running is I think I have the judgment and experience necessary to lead the country” during such perilous times. He cited the Pakistan and Iran crises that have recently appeared.

    Doug Lambert, Granite Grok: Congrats, etc.

    McCain: He’s gratified that people of NH call him “John” because he’s connected so well.

    Lambert: Prospects going forward?

    McCain: History shows that winning 2 of 3 of Iowa, NH, and South Carolina wins the nomination.

    Lambert: Will town hall meeting strategy work in later states, like Florida?

    McCain: No, local media markets are the key there. “Nobody says it’s easy.” Still, he doesn’t want to abandon town hall meetings, which are fun and his best setting.

    Jim Geraghty, National Review: What went right in 2000 that he can replicate?

    McCain: He thinks there are still “a lot of independent minded voters” and a strong sense that national defense is important. We’ve got enough money to buy a respectable amount of advertising and he’s picking up endorsements.

    Michael Goldfarb, Weekly Standard: Will we be seeing Lieberman on the stump?

    McCain: Yes, we will. Monday in Michigan and several other stops are scheduled.

    Dan Nowiki, Arizona Republic: You mentioned money’s coming in? Mostly internet or what?

    McCain: Mostly internet. Haven’t had much time for traditional fundraising. Very strong now.

    Ed Morrissey, Captain’s Quarters: Welcome to frontrunner status!

    McCain: Thanks, but remember what happened last time I had it.

    Morrissey: What’s the Republican message going forward:

    McCain: Straight talk: Look at the turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire. You know message: “Fundamental principles of the party” — small government, fiscal responsibility, standing up to jihadists, shoring up status in world, winning Iraq, etc. We’ll see enough signs by November that we’re winning in Iraq to vindicate our message.

    We also need to start addressing new issues for us, like climate change. The Democrats talk about “change” but don’t give us specifics. I helped lead change in Iraq that’s saved lives.

    Morrissey: What are you looking for in a running mate?

    McCain: “I’m optimistic but not that optimistic!” Obviously, need someone who shares philosophy, is good at national security, and has strong expertise in some of my weak areas. People like my friend Phil Gramm with expertise in tax policies would be good to have around.

    David Brody, CBN News: Why is everyone focusing on Romney but nobody mentions Huckabee as his strongest challenger?

    McCain: He’s “come across as a decent individual” and “proven that debates matter.” He’s funny and likable. If it came down to the two of them, it would be “a very respectful debate” but there’s plenty of disagreement on important issues.

    Brody: Any concern about his expertise on national security?

    McCain: Not any more than any of the others who are running. My credentials are just better.

    END OF CALL

Observations: McCain seemed a bit more buoyant than in recent calls; clearly, he’s energized by pulling out an important win and giving his campaign new life. He’s sticking to his core issues and emphasizing and re-emphasizing them, which strikes me as a sound strategy.

The race ahead will be interesting. While I think he’s now the titular frontrunner, it’s almost a meaningless title. Thompson is done. I don’t see where Romney’s support base is at this point, either. He might take Michigan but nothing else looks promising.

Beyond that, though, the picture isn’t clear. The state-by-state polls currently available are virtually meaningless, since they haven’t factored in last night’s results. Giuliani is fading in Florida but could do well in California, New Jersey, and several other delegate-rich states. Huckabee could and should do well in the Deep South. McCain should be appealing in the West. None of that’s written in stone, though, and the races will come so fast that traditional momentum building will be difficult.

Image source: Politico — ironically, from a July 2007 piece entitled, “McCain drain: Inside the implosion.”

UPDATE: Others on the call who have posted reactions: Paul Mirengoff (PowerLine), Neil Stevens (RedState), Jim Geraghty (Campaign Spot/NRO), Ed Morrissey (CQ), and Matt Lewis (TownHall)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.