ALEX COHEN, host:
While Obama visits the Middle East, Senator John McCain is traveling through New England today. He's back in New Hampshire, trying to rekindle the enthusiasm of the Republican primaries. NPR's Scott Horsley is there with the campaign in Rochester, New Hampshire. And Scott, what is John McCain doing there in New Hampshire today?
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain is holding a town hall meeting here on the New Hampshire sea coast, and that must feel pretty familiar to the Arizona senator. He held more than 100 town hall meetings here in New Hampshire during the primary. This was the state that rekindled his primary hopes, of course. About a year ago, when his campaign was really in the dumpster, he famously said, I'm going to go to New Hampshire, I'm going to invest all my time and efforts there. He won the New Hampshire primary. Of course he won here eight years ago as well. And so this is a state that has been good to John McCain.
There is, however, a poll out today, showing him in a dead heat with Barack Obama, which means that John McCain has lost some ground in the last couple of months. Two months ago he was leading Barack Obama by a narrow margin, and now they're in a statistical tie.
COHEN: And that poll's in New Hampshire, Scott?
HORSLEY: That's right. This is a poll by the University of New Hampshire, the Granite State poll.
COHEN: So he's back there now, but is he even getting any attention, with so much attention being paid to Senator Obama's trip to the Middle East?
HORSLEY: This is a challenge for the McCain campaign. Barack Obama is on the front pages, and, really, what John McCain can hope for is to at least keep his campaign on the inside pages of the newspaper, or to get some paragraphs in the stories about Senator Obama's trip to the Middle East. And, so, the McCain campaign has been sort of kibitzing from the sidelines every day, criticizing Barack Obama for, for example, not supporting the troop surge a year ago, which is, what John McCain argues, has led to the success in Iraq, and made it even possible to talk about a timetable for withdrawal.
But there's also been considerable argument about what constitutes an appropriate timetable for withdrawal, since John McCain's been hitting Barack Obama hard for his 16-month timetable, and now even the White House and the Iraqi government are talking about some sort of framework for a withdrawal. So they're playing that card, trying to, sort of, criticize the Obama trip from a distance; and, also, they know that foreign policy takes a backseat, with many American voters, to domestic policy. So they are talking about economics and they've started running a new television ad this week about gasoline prices, and highlighting John McCain's plan to promote offshore oil drilling.
COHEN: Scott, it's summer there now, but in the winter, heating a home is a pretty big issue for people in that area. John McCain's been criticized for voting against financial assistance for people with heating oil. I am sure that can't play very well in New England?
HORSLEY: Well, that's right, Alex. I mean, across the country people are concerned about gasoline that's costing more than four dollars a gallon, but here in New England people are very concerned about heating oil costs, which could be five dollars a gallon this winter. And, as you say, the Democratic Party has been faulting John McCain for voting, on a number of occasions, against support of a federal program that provides heating assistance to low-income families. Now, in fairness, John McCain represents a state where air conditioning costs in the summer are a bigger concern, but certainly no question that his offshore oil drilling plan is not going to provide the kind of short-term relief that New Englanders will be looking for with their heating bills this winter.
COHEN: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the John McCain campaign in New Hampshire. Thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: Great to be with you, Alex.