I caught up with John McCain at a Nashua rotary club luncheon this afternoon, on a day when that new WMUR poll puts McCain in second place here in New Hampshire. (It's Romney 33, McCain 18, Rudy Giuliani 16, Ron Paul 8, Fred Thompson 4.) According to this Real Clear Politics poll archive, McCain hasn't outpolled Rudy since June. If Mike Huckabee manages to bruise up Romney in Iowa, McCain could make things interesting here.
McCain didn't mention the poll at today's lunch, but he did say a couple of interesting things. First, while offering broader caveats about Iraq, he declared the surge a success that has vindicated him. "One of the candidates on the other side said it was the 'McCain surge,'" he gloated. "They don't say that anymore."
Also, in response to an audience question about George Bush's reliance on "signing statements" to get around acts of Congress, McCain vowed that he would never use them. "It's wrong. It should not be done," he said. "I would never issue a signing statement. I would only veto or sign a bill into law."
Finally, I was struck by how far McCain has shifted--at least rhetorically--on the subject of immigration. Just a few months ago he was working with Ted Kennedy to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Two of the luncheon's half-dozen or so audience questions concerned immigration, and in both cases McCain sounded almost Tancredo-esque: "The American people want the border secured first. That’s what they want. And that’s what they’re going to get from me," he vowed after one question, adding that he would require "certfication" of this from border-state governors. After a second question McCain spoke briefly about a guest-worker program but said nothing about citizenship, and then contined: "I got the message. Americans want the border secure. This issue is on the minds of the American people in the most unusual way."
Teetering away on the brink of bankruptcy, McCain is still campaigning frugally. He had few staffers at the event. And when he departed--to receive the endorsement of 9/11 commission co-chair Tom Keane in Boston--it was not in his sleek bus of yore. The Straight Talk Express has been downgraded to a drab maroon van. He got the message alright.