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‘Rocky’ McCain

YORK, Penn.–Oh dear god. That’s the only reaction one could have when the theme song from "Rocky" came over the loud speakers in an air hangar here. It played as the Straight Talk Express bus literally rolled into the building, deploying its precious cargo — Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and the Arizona senator’s BFF, the pseudo-Democrat but official independent from Connecticut, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

But hell, this rally was something. For someone who’s traveled back and forth between the presidential campaigns, I’ve gotten used to the differing tenor and energy levels. With Sen. Barack Obama, I’ve become immune to the frenetic energy produced by the sight of people chanting his name in unison, shaking the temporary bleachers until the candidate and his surrogates arrive. Likewise, I’m never surprised by the opposite — the subdued beginnings and decidedly smaller, older crowd who politely welcome McCain.

But here McCain– with his opponent on a family vacation in his home state of Hawaii–seemed to revert back to the primary election of 2000, speaking to 3,000 people, one of the biggest crowds of his campaign. Any evidence of the angry, virulent man I’ve seen at times during this race seemed absent. In his place was a man full of good humor and enthusiasm, humble at points while taking

After being introduced by Lieberman as "Rocky McCain," the candidate began by talking about the Russian invasion of Georgia, disclosing that he and the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili that just spoken this morning. In a shot across the Atlantic, he said he told Saakashvili that he spoke for all Americans when asserting, "We are all Georgians." Later he urged his fellow members of the Congress and Senate, to, um, come off their vacations to get an energy bill passed so that we could begin to "drill, drill, drill now."

As he has in the past, McCain took time to make a not-so-subtle dig at his opponent by praising Obama’s former primary rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"She inspired young women and people all over America," McCain said to great applause, "and I think she deserves credit for running a fine campaign."

What inspired such a performance is unknown. What is clear, however, is that McCain sent a signal to the Obama campaign that he will not meekly fight this race by talking about tidal power, or run it via ads attacking Obama’s celebrity and, most recently, the Democratic senator’s ardent supporters. He is still a man, we were reminded, ready to fight on in this electoral contest with great energy and verve. Perhaps the maverick is reborn.

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