John McCain: The Comeback Kid?

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at Stanford University, Wednesday Aug. 1, 2007 in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
AP Photo/George Nikitin
Can a 40-year-old film change the current presidential contest?

John McCain's campaign is banking on it.

A new commercial forcefully reminds viewers of his 5 1/2 years spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp and links that past with today's most contentious issue.

"One man sacrificed for his country ... One man opposed a flawed strategy in Iraq ... One man does what's right, not what's easy," the ad says.

Nothing has been easy for McCain this year: the front-runner stumbled; his top campaign staff vanished and so did his money.

And after years of trying to turn himself from the maverick of 2000 to a consensus Republican choice, embracing one-time foe George Bush, reaching out to the religious right.

McCain finds himself forced by circumstance back to his insurgent routes, seeking a comeback in New Hampshire with a tough love message for his Republican Party.

"Why we failed is because the American people have lost trust and confidence in us -- our failure in Katrina, our failures in Iraq, and our failures to control runaway spending," he said during a debate.

And, in a not-so-veiled swipe at his rivals, he argues there is an "experience gap" when it comes to prosecuting the war in Iraq and the fight on terror.

"I have seen war. I know how the military works, I know how government works. I understand national security," he continued at the debate.

That message may be having some impact; McCain has picked up six points in the latest New Hampshire polls. But one-time Bush aide Nicole Wallace says this is a high-risk strategy.

"John McCain is dancing on the edge of a knife with this. He's saying that winning in Iraq is essential to our security at home, but the way George Bush went about it is all wrong," she said.

New Hampshire seems to be where McCain is counting on becoming the new Comeback Kid, but at least one longtime confidante says without a major investment in Iowa, he risks getting fatally swamped in those caucuses.