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 seems now to be bearing the veteran candidate to a win among Republicans in the state's primary voting today.
Eve-of-voting polls show Mr 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 Bush. His main rival, the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, seems to be slipping.
Mr McCain, who is 71, has maintained a vigorous schedule of town hall appearances where he quickly opens up the floor to questions. With a willingness to engage in debate on any topic that arises, he seems to have won the appreciation of many Republicans as well as independents in the state.
"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. Confetti stars which were dropped on the audience at its close still clung to her thinning hair. "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 today and also, as the polls suggest, by the Democrat Barack Obama, would set up the possibility of an intriguing generational clash if both ended up being their parties' nominees. While the former is veteran of the Vietnam War, Mr Obama, at 46, represents the succeeding generation.
A Fox News poll released last night showed Mr McCain opening a seven-point lead over Mr Romney, picking up 14 points since the last Fox poll in New Hampshire in December. A CNN poll had Mr McCain opening a gap of six points.
"I don't think I've ever had a town hall meeting where I didn't try to listen to everybody," Mr McCain told a standing-room-only crowd in Salem on Sunday. "And that's why, frankly, my friends, that's why we're winning this campaign. This is what democracy is all about."
Nostalgia may also be at work. "I think a lot of people look back at McCain's 2000 run now and say, 'If only the rest of the country had listened to New Hampshire, we'd be in a better place than we are now,'" said Dante Scala of the University of New Hampshire.
Latest poll (last poll in brackets)
Fox 34 (20)
Marist 35 (18)
Fox 27 (33)
Marist 31 (31)
Fox 11 (11)
Marist 13 (11)