CARY — Maybe no remnant of John McCains presidential campaign is more alive or useful this election cycle than the Arizona senators continuing popularity in military circles.
On Tuesday, McCain put that good will to use in North Carolina a state he narrowly lost by some 14,000 votes in 2008 when he joined Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for a campaign swing that included stops at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Cary and a Fayetteville rally near Fort Bragg.
Lines of cars crowded the parking lot outside the VFW post, and several dozen spectators filled a community room some donning McCain-Palin paraphernalia, others clutching books and in want of an autograph.
The Republican heavyweights slammed President Barack Obamas foreign policy record.
McCain told the crowd he takes issue with a slogan repeated by Obama that the tides of war in the Middle East are receding. The only thing receding in the Middle East is American leadership, he said.
McCain offered a couple of examples to bolster his claim: Obamas preference for leaving Afghanistan without a residual U.S. military presence when withdrawing troops, and the State Departments response to the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Graham offered similar criticism, and characterized Obama as a community organizer who was well-intentioned but not experienced enough to take on the task of leading a military during dangerous times.
He added that the assassination of Osama bin Laden should be celebrated, but that alone cannot be counted as a successful foreign policy.
Democratic Rep. David Price, who represents the 4th District, said the comments from McCain and Graham were full of half-truths and did little to detail how exactly Romney would be different on foreign policy.
Price also accused Romney of playing politics with Libya, even though details of the tragedy remain unclear.
Where differences are more obvious is with veterans affairs, Price said. Romney has said it might be a good idea to privatize and voucherize veterans health care, he said.
Asked about Romneys lack of military experience, McCain said he makes up for it in a couple ways: He ran the Massachusetts National Guard while governor, providing some experience leading the military, and he is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan during the Cold War.
The praise is a stark contrast to McCains take on Romneys foreign policy experience when the two were rivals in the 2008 GOP primary.
At the time, McCains campaign produced a video that started with a bomb blast on a city street, then cut to sirens wailing amid a cacophony of voices and cries.
A man was shown being dragged from the carnage. Then the words: Mitt Romney says the next president doesnt need foreign policy experience, a reference to Romneys claim then that a president didnt need to be a foreign policy expert if surrounded with the right people.
But that was then, and this is now:
Im asking you a favor as an old soldier ... make sure that every single veteran, family member, spouse, active duty, is registered to vote and is going to vote, McCain told the crowd.
Graham: All bets off
Graham also has had a change of heart, of sorts, since he made a memorable comment during the last campaign.
Ill beat Michael Phelps in swimming before Barack Obama wins North Carolina, Graham said at a campaign stop in Fayetteville in 2008.
I really believed people in North Carolina would understand you cant go from being the most liberal senator to a centrist overnight, Graham said Tuesday.
I learned my lesson. Thats why were out here getting out the vote just a couple weeks before the election.
No bets this time around.