03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Surge In New Hampshire: Midday Rally Overflows As The Straight Talk Express Comes Back Full Circle

PETERBOROUGH, NEW HAMPSHIRE — It was standing-room only at the McCain rally today at noon in Peterborough, New Hampshire — at least we assume so, since the event was stuffed to capacity and the fire marshal ordered it closed.

As the Straight Talk Express swung around the corner of Grove Street around the Town Hall, where the event was being held, throngs of supporters waved placards and chanted "McCain! McCain!" and "Mac is Back!" The crowd surged around the bus as a McCain operative emerged, clearing the way for its occupants to proceed on in to the Town Hall (we saw Time's Ana Marie Cox duck quickly through the crowd and into the building, followed by the other occupants). Last came McCain, casual-cool in a blazer and sweater (New Hampshire in winter = layers), with wife Cindy on his arm, beaming as he made his way through the crowd. As fans cheered and chanted McCain waved and smiled and shook hands, feeding off the energy from his fans. According to this morning's Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll, McCain is leading in New Hampshire by 32 percent over former frontrunner Mitt Romney (at 30), who has connections to the state both as a former neighboring governor, property-owner, and spender of many millions of campaign dollars. McCain, for his part, won the New Hampshire primary back in 2000. Many in the crowd, which was generationally diverse if not ethnically so, declared that they had supported him then and were back to support him now.

Alas, soon after he disappeared into the hall, the the glass door swung shut with, as from behind it a portly mustachioed man shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Stranded media types with cameras and press passes around their necks stood with disappointed supporters and what appeared to be actual undecided voters as the door opened and shut periodically to let particular people through (being press helped, which led one woman to complain, "Oh, so you'll let members of the press in but not actual undecided New Hampshire independents?") All told, approximately 200 people were left outside the Town Hall, which had admitted about 1,000 people before the fire marshal raised his all-powerful hand.

Not everyone wnted to go in, though — the front steps of the Town Hall were taken up by some grassroots protest groups with signs like "McCain = Amnesty," "Divided We Fail" and "Impeach Cheney First" — but mostly they milled around and cheerfully posed for pictures. Behind the building, where by now the fire marshal's edict had been circulated, supporters waited patiently outside, like couple Gary Hunter and Candace McCabe, who had met McCain previously on a number of occasions. McCabe, who carried a copy of a McCain book for him to sign, was an aesthetician and said that she had hoped to offer her services to McCain should he be so inclined. Both felt that McCain was the candidate most experienced to lead, saying that this "wasn't a time for on the job training." Though there's never a bad time for good makeup.