Arizona Senator John McCain, according to the latest public opinion polls in New Hampshire, has surged to the top of the pack of Republican candidates seeking to win their party's presidential nomination. McCain's campaign nearly collapsed last year, but of all the Republican candidates, it appears he has momentum going into next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports from a McCain rally in Derry, New Hampshire.

With Chuck Berry's 1950's rock and roll song Johnny B Goode blasting from speakers in a local opera house, Senator McCain arrives here in Derry with his campaign for the Republican nomination appearing to be on the rise at the right time.

But the tone quickly gets serious as the former Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam tells the overflow crowd why he is running for the nation's highest office.

"The reason why I am running is I think we are facing the transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism," said John McCain. "My friends, you know very well we are in two wars."

If McCain wins in New Hampshire it will be a remarkable comeback.

Last year the Senator's campaign ran short on money and he was forced to lay off much of his staff.

McCain's strong support for the U.S. troop surge in Iraq and a controversial immigration bill hurt him with some voters. However the continuing upheaval in the Republican field of candidates appears to have helped boost his once declining candidacy.

McCain tells audiences his war experiences make him uniquely qualified to be president.

"We are in two wars and General [David] Petraeus has said Iraq is the central front in the battle against Islamic extremism," he said. "My friends it is and it is true. I believe there is very little doubt that we need someone who is experienced and has the knowledge, the experience and therefore the judgment to win this struggle."

McCain frequently campaigns with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate.

Lieberman lost his state's party primary in 2006 over his support for the Iraq war, but won re-election into the U.S. Senate as an independent.

Lieberman has endorsed McCain.

"By his example as president, he will inspire a new generation of service to our country, which will make us even better," said Lieberman. "This is a man who believes in America. That is his motivation and he will always put American first."

Recent polls show McCain has overtaken and now has a slight lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Romney had held the lead in New Hampshire for months, but appears to be weakened by a disappointing second place finish in the recent Iowa caucuses to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

New Hampshire voters like Elizabeth Merrill say they are leaning toward voting for McCain.

"I think in this day and age foreign policy is one of the top important things to have experience in and he absolutely has that," said Elizabeth Merrill. "So I feel confident about him."

McCain won the 2000 New Hampshire primary and became known as a blunt speaking maverick as he crossed the state in his campaign bus called the "Straight Talk Express."

The Arizona senator has resurrected the bus for this year's campaign and he is drawing large crowds at recent rallies.

Jay Stone is a registered Republican voter from Derry who likes McCain's style.

"I think he has a lot of leadership skills," said Jay Stone. "He is a strong leader. He is a straight shooter. I think he really tells it like it is."

Dante Scala, a professor of political science at New Hampshire University, says voters here like McCain's conservative credentials, but also his independent streak.

"So John McCain is on the rise," said Dante Scala. "He can feel it. He has got the momentum. Certainly the national media want to be able to tell the McCain comeback story because it will be a whale of a tale."

McCain is 71-years-old and, if elected, will be the oldest person to ever be sworn in as an American president.

For now he is campaigning with strength and enthusiasm hoping to repeat his 2000 win in the primary next Tuesday.