Manchester, New Hampshire -- I know that over on his fancypants blog Mike already promised you details of the John McCain-Curt Schilling confab. But since we both wound up at the same event, Mike's graciously decided to throw the Plank a bone and has allowed me to do the honors.

If McCain wants to go from second to first in the New Hampshire polls, he might want to consider bringing Schilling along with him to every campaign stop. Granted, it would make Charlie Pierce's head explode, but Schilling is guaranteed to draw a big crowd--it was standing room only at the private school theater where the the event was held--and he's pretty good at delivering the key McCain campaign talking points about the candidate's personal virtues. "I am way outside my element here," Schilling began in introducing McCain, before going on to deliver what might as well be the McCain campaign's closing argument: "We are at a time when integrity, honor, loyalty, and respect need to stop being punch lines. . . . They have to be at the core of the person we put in the White House."

McCain was able to get into policy minutia with some of the questioners at the event--talking about global warming legislation and the politics and bureaucratic procedures of situating new VA hospitals. But, more than any policy proposals, he's really selling himself. From the little video his campaign showed before he took the stage that featured interviews with some of his fellow POWs and his mom to the salty back-and-forth he had with a Marine in the crowd (McCain: "I tried to go into the Marines after I graduated from the Naval Academy, but they turned me down on the grounds that my parents were married"), McCain, more than any politician I've ever seen, makes an almost entirely characterological pitch. As he put it in a recent campaign ad, "I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry."

And that pitch can work. Although a number of the New Hampshere voters I spoke with at the event said they had some major disagreements with McCain--mostly on immigration--all of them said they were either definitely going to vote for him or were seriously considering it. As Ed Lee, a tax collector from Manchester who voted for McCain in 2000 and will do so again in '08, put it: "He's honest. I don't agree with him on immigration. But I'm not so sure I trust that the others will do what they say they're going to do on it, either."

Six months ago, when everyone was writing McCain's political obituary, it was hard to believe he'd still be campaigning at this point--much less that he'd be within shouting distance of first place in New Hamsphire. Then again, six months ago, it was just as hard to believe that, by early December, the GOP race would be as unsettled as it is; surely someone would have emerged as the undisputed frontrunner by now. The fact that no frontrunner ever did emerge is undoubtedly one of the major reasons McCain's still in this thing. And the longer the race remains unsettled, the shorter McCain's odds--as long as they may still be--at winning the whole thing become. If Republican voters can't find another candidate to their liking or don't trust what those candidates say, maybe they'll be like Lee and go for the guy they feel they can trust--even when they don't necessarily agree with him.

I'm going to follow McCain around New Hampshire for the next couple days for a print story, but I'll try to post some of my impressions to the Plank, as well.

P.S. Not only did Mike let me do this item, he also emailed me a nice photo that he took of McCain and Schilling. But, alas, posting that photo appears to be beyond either my or this Canadian software's technical capacities. And since my words can't do the photo justice, you'll have to just imagine what might have been.

Update: My art is now on exhibit. You're welcome, JZ! --Mike 

--Jason Zengerle