A CNN/WMUR poll out Monday shows McCain in second place among likely Republican New Hampshire primary voters with 18 percent, trailing front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, with 33 percent.
McCain moved into second place when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani lost 8 points from the previous month, dropping from 24 percent in September to 16 percent in October.
The poll suggests McCain's strength on national security issues, and particularly the war in Iraq, could provide an opening to move up on Romney and Giuliani, the national front-runner.
Forty-two percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters, according to the poll, believe McCain is the best candidate to handle Iraq.
"The war in Iraq remains the top concern among GOP primary voters," CNN polling director Keating Holland said. "McCain beats Romney as well as Giuliani by nearly a three-to-one margin on the war."
On the question of negatives, those who would not vote for the candidate under any circumstance, McCain looks more attractive:
McCain's rating on the same question declined from 38 percent to 29 percent over the same period; Romney's showed a slight increase, from 17 percent to 19 percent; and the number of people who said they could not support Giuliani on any terms grew from 22 percent to 28 percent.
McCain also received another key endorsement yesterday, which further shores up his national security credentials:
BOSTON (AP) — The chairman of the panel that examined the nation's security before Sept. 11, 2001 and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks announced Monday he was endorsing John McCain — and not former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — for president.
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican like Giuliani and McCain, said the Arizona senator's blend of congressional, military and foreign affairs experience left him the best equipped of the GOP candidates to serve in the White House.
Couple that one, with the announcement today, and McCain increasingly steals Rudi's 9/11 thunder, the centerpiece of his campaign.
A lot will depend on what happens with New Hampshire independents, who can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary. If Clinton wins Iowa, New Hampshire looks to be anti-climatic, which might move many independents to vote in the Republican primary. McCain has always enjoyed impressive support with independents, given his maverick image. While the Iraq war is hardly popular, outside of core Republicans, McCain's consistent stance, advocating a "surge" for years, may mitigate what looked an albatross a few months ago.
The biggest challenge McCain faces is the impression with voters (outlined in this poll) that he isn't a serious threat to win the nomination. Only 8% see him as the national victor, which undercuts any momentum. That said, the McCain campaign does have a case to make moving forward, as all the national polls show McCain matching up best against any Democratic nominee (several show him the only one ahead of Clinton).
McCain ain't dead yet, especially in a field that looks more volatile than ever.