SALEM, N.H. — A relaxed Senator McCain, campaigning Barack Obama-style without a necktie, is offering New Hampshire voters a recipe that combines a morsel of the maverick, a bit of the bipartisan, a hint of the hawk, and a tablespoon of the tax-cutter.
Mr. McCain added to his campaign today a call to eliminate the alternative minimum tax and to make the research and development tax credit permanent along with a ban on taxes on the Internet and cell phones.
Aiming to outdo Mitt Romney, who as the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts is ahead in polls to win the Granite State's January 8 primary, Mr. McCain announced his economic proposals at the offices of the Andover Corporation, a manufacturer of optical devices that employs 47 people here.
Many political analysts had written Mr. McCain, who was once the front-runner for the Republican nomination, off for dead when he fired his campaign manager and lost much of his staff back in July.
At that time, his supporters in New Hampshire, such as John Lyons, told the Sun Mr. McCain would win the primary through "continued personal campaigning here."
By doing exactly that, the Arizonan has fought his way back to relevance, overtaking Mayor Giuliani and trailing Mr. Romney by an average of 13.5 percentage points according to Real Clear Politics. "John McCain has more traction and is looking to make a run at Romney," a professor at the University of New Hampshire, Dante Scala, told the Sun.
"We're now into the home stretch," Mr. McCain said as he concluded his remarks. "I hope I've been able to convince you that although we may have specific disagreements on specific issues that I am qualified to lead this nation in difficult times."
Reading from a letter penned by George Washington he kept in his pocket, he vowed to help veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters following the event, Mr. McCain, who received the endorsement of Senator Lieberman an independent Democrat of Connecticut, said he would continue to try to lure independent voters who, under the rules in New Hampshire, can vote in either party primary. "I don't think it's clear yet where the independents are going to go. The one thing I know is they make up their minds last," he said. "I hope I can continue to appeal to them. …We do sense more and more turnouts at the town meetings on the part of the independents."
The candidate strove to deliver a centrist message, one that Senator Obama also works into his rhetoric. Asked by a questioner to condemn columnist and commentator Ann Coulter, Mr. McCain said "one of the things that's not helpful in working things out is the level of dialogue in America. ... I've often asked people who would you rather see on a cable show tonight, me and Joe Lieberman or Ann Coulter and Michael Moore. … It makes for viewers." He added, "I can't comment on Ann Coulter or any individual on either side, but I can say I do hope we would have a more respectful political dialogue in this country." As for his economic message, it drew criticism from Mr. Romney's campaign and economic conservatives. "Senator McCain just doesn't believe in tax cuts in the same way as Mitt Romney and President Bush. Senator McCain opposed President Bush's pro-growth tax cuts," a spokesman for Mr. Romney, Eric Fehrnstrom said, adding that Mr. Romney favored cutting marginal tax rates for everyone and eliminating the "death tax," in contrast to Mr. McCain.
A spokesman for Americans for Tax Reform, John Kartch, asked, "Will McCain commit to veto any attempt to raise taxes?"
A spokeswoman for the Club for Growth, Nachama Soloveitchik, called Mr. McCain's record on taxes "very bad." She said "now he's trying to convince economic conservatives that he's on their side, not with a bold new tax cutting policy but general platitudes and the same old proposals we've heard before."
Mr. McCain returned to Washington yesterday to vote in the Senate and will return to Boston today for a campaign event with the former director of central intelligence, R. James Woolsey, and Henry Kissinger.