In N.H., New Poll Shows McCain Trailing Obama

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John McCain has held a town hall meeting in Rochester, N.H. The State has long favored the Republican candidate and helped revitalize his campaign during the primaries. But a new poll shows him suddenly trailing Barack Obama in the state.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

To the campaign trail now, and New Hampshire, where Senator John McCain held a town hall meeting this afternoon. He took the opportunity to attack Barack Obama, who's now on a tour of the Middle East, for not supporting the troop surge in Iraq.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: Senator McCain has often said that after a shaky start his campaign hit at stride in New Hampshire. But the Republican candidate got a bit of bad news there this week from a University of New Hampshire poll.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with Senator McCain. And Scott, first, the news about the poll, what does it say?

SCOTT HORSLEY: You're right, Robert. John McCain has had a long history in New Hampshire of the state being good to him. But this poll now shows that he's lost some ground in the last couple of months. He had a six-point lead in the last Granite State poll two months ago, and he's now in a dead heat with Barack Obama.

SIEGEL: New Hampshire's famously independent anti-taxing voters seem to be McCain's strong suit. What's going that he's not doing so well?

HORSLEY: You're right. I mean, he won here eight years ago, and of course this was the state that sort of rescued his campaign earlier this year. He's back to doing what he does in New Hampshire, which is hold town hall meetings. And he had a warm reception here in Rochester today. Whether his slipping in the polls with Obama represents a step back for John McCain or maybe a consolidation by Barack Obama is hard to say.

Maybe people are more focused on the economy now than they were two months ago. And we know that that's not a strong suit for John McCain. He quickly tried to shift the focus this afternoon to foreign policy.

SIEGEL: Well, Barack Obama is in the Middle East, and later this week he heads off to Europe on a trip that's intended to burnish his foreign policy credentials. And that's something that John McCain has really been quite critical of.

HORSLEY: He's been hammering at Barack Obama both yesterday in Maine and again today in New Hampshire and in daily conference calls with the media, criticizing Barack Obama for not supporting the troop surge last year. John McCain insists it's the success of that surge that has enabled now the Iraqi government and the Bush administration even to talk about a timetable for withdrawal.

And he says, yes, he also supports the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but as he said often times before, a withdrawal with victory and not a withdrawal in defeat. He had a lengthy back-and-forth today with an antiwar voter here in New Hampshire. It was really sort of an interesting exchange. There have been a number of town hall meetings where antiwar protesters have shouted at McCain and been removed from the hall, but this was really a fairly lengthy dialogue, and it's the kind of back-and-forth that John McCain says he likes to have on the campaign trail.

But he gave no ground. He insisted that he was right to support the surge, that Barack Obama was wrong to oppose it, and that the troops should not come home until they can secure a victory in Iraq.

SIEGEL: Scott, there was speculation that McCain might announce a running mate this week. Anything new on that front?

HORSLEY: That's right columnist Robert Novak suggested that there might be an announcement this week, and there's been a lot of reading of the tea leaves into McCain's schedule. He's in New Hampshire today, where Mitt Romney has a summer home. He'll be in Louisiana later this week, where another of the contenders, Bobby Jindal, is the governor.

This is probably a good parlor game, and it's a way to keep the reporters on the bus interested during what might otherwise be a slow news week. It's hard to imagine though that John McCain would surrender the strategic advantage of sort of forcing Barack Obama to go first and then being able to make his pick based on what Obama does.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's Scott Horsley, speaking to us from New Hampshire.

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