September 4, 2018 at 9:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
My time on the Straight Talk Express

The late-U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks at Peterborough Town Hall in Peterborough, N.H., before the state’s 2000 presidential primary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — There is an exhibit near the baggage claim at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport that highlights the history of the New Hampshire primary and the many White House hopefuls who have made their way to the Granite State over the decades. One of the pictures in the exhibit is of the late-U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) standing in front of the Straight Talk Express during his 2000 presidential campaign.

I saw that bus dozens of times across New Hampshire when I volunteered for his campaign. I saw it again early Saturday morning once my delayed flight from D.C. landed in my hometown that I visited over Labor Day weekend.

People who have lived in New Hampshire for any length of time may say there is nothing like the quadrennial spectacle that is the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. They may also describe it as the Super Bowl of politics, sort of speak, because of the access to candidates that cannot be found in most other states. All of this may be true, but there are those candidates who come to New Hampshire who truly stand above for the rest. McCain was certainly one of them for me.

I was a senior at Manchester Memorial High School when a classmate and I decided to volunteer for his campaign. The initial motivation was admittedly selfish: Extra credit in my AP U.S. Government and Politics class.

I spent time at the campaign’s headquarters on Merrimack Street in downtown Manchester placing labels on envelopes. I stood outside on Elm Street in sub-zero weather holding campaign signs, chanting “We’re freezing for a reason” and other slogans that one can only appreciate if they have spent anytime in New Hampshire during primary season. I also attended some of the town hall meetings for which McCain became known.

My classmate and I were at the campaign’s victory party in Nashua on Feb. 1, 2000, when McCain defeated then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the Republican primary. It was a very exciting night for two high school students. We were obviously excited that our candidate had won. We also felt as though we were part of something that was bigger than ourselves, something that represented a set of ideals to which we should all strive.

In the end McCain did not become president in 2000 or in 2008. I have not lived in New Hampshire since shortly after I graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2004. My personal politics on a host of issues — LGBTI issues, human rights, war, the role of the U.S. in the world, etc. — have changed significantly over the last two decades. One thing that has not changed is the fondness I still have for the time that I spent volunteering for McCain’s campaign.

I have thought a lot about him since he passed away on Aug. 25. I had tears in my eyes when I watched his memorial services in Phoenix and in D.C. on television. I enthusiastically applauded Meghan McCain when she criticized and mocked President Trump, albeit not by name, during the eulogy for her father at Washington National Cathedral.

A lot has been written about McCain’s legacy on LGBTI rights, war and other issues. This debate will continue, as it should, now that he has been laid to rest. I can nevertheless say from the perspective of the son of a Vietnam War veteran who passed away in June 2017 there is no doubt that McCain loved his country and did what he felt was right. He also inspired a high school senior from New Hampshire to become part of something bigger than himself.

Rest in peace, senator.

The late-U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)’s New Hampshire campaign headquarters in Manchester, N.H., before the state’s 2000 presidential primary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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