Treading on his main rival's turf, GOP presidential contender John McCain greeted patrons and supporters at Boston's historic Green Dragon Tavern yesterday, kicking off a frenzied three days of campaigning for candidates in the Bay State.
Less than an hour before bar-goers turned their attention fully to the Super Bowl kick-off, the Arizona senator shook hands and posed for pictures, pledging to keep the country safe, cut taxes, and reduce government spending. He did not mention his fellow Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
"We're going to compete here; we think we have a shot here," McCain said to reporters and Patriots fans, some of whom stumbled upon the hastily arranged political gathering. "We think we may be able to really finish this thing up on Tuesday."
McCain is scheduled to stay in the state for a rally this morning at Faneuil Hall. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also are scheduled to campaign in Massachusetts today, underscoring the Bay State's fresh importance to the primary season a day before voters in two dozen states head to the polls.
The only major candidate not scheduled to appear in Massachusetts today is Romney, who is expected to head home to Belmont tomorrow to vote before appearing at a primary-night rally at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Romney sounded a bit irked yesterday that McCain stumped in his home state.
"For me, this is not about trying to tweak somebody or get in their head," Romney said in Glen Ellyn, Ill. "This is about getting delegates and becoming the nominee."
He predicted he would beat McCain in the Massachusetts primary.
"But if he wants to spend time in Massachusetts, fine," Romney said. "I don't think it will help him a lot."
Clinton, clinging to a narrowing lead in national polls of Democratic voters, is scheduled to take her campaign today to Worcester for a 11:30 a.m. rally at Clark University. US Representative James P. McGovern is expected to join Clinton for her "Solutions for America" rally.
Clinton spokesman Mark Daley said the campaign remains confident of a win in Massachusetts, despite seeing the state's top three statewide elected officials actively campaign for Obama.
"There's no question that Massachusetts is a battleground, but we feel very good about where we stand," Daley said yesterday.
He said the campaign has been leveraging the grass-roots networks of more than 80 members of the state Legislature who have endorsed Clinton.
He also said more than 2,100 Clinton supporters from the Bay State who canvassed New Hampshire in her surprise victory in that state's primary have turned their attention home.
Obama is scheduled to share the stage tonight at the Seaport World Trade Center with Governor Deval Patrick and US Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, in his last campaign event of the day.
"We're thrilled to have the governor and Senators Kennedy and Kerry working alongside us here, but ultimately this is about everyday voters," said Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin.
Cherlin said the Obama campaign had anticipated "an uphill battle" for Massachusetts, where the few polls conducted have shown Clinton with a lead.
"We've been thrilled by the outpouring of support we've seen, but Senator Obama knows he's going to have to make that sale ultimately, and that's why he wanted to come to Massachusetts the night before the votes are cast," Cherlin said.
Romney, who hopes to win enough states tomorrow to hold off McCain's momentum since winning the Florida primary, is scheduled to campaign in Tennessee, Georgia, and West Virginia today.
One undecided voter from Georgia, a state where voters also go to the polls tomorrow, was sightseeing at Faneuil Hall when he noticed crowds gathered for McCain's appearance at the Green Dragon.
"I'm sure he's not going to change my mind with what he says right now, but I'll listen to him," said John Eisle, who was in town visiting friends in Cambridge.
Eisle, an Atlanta resident who said he has not decided whether to vote Democratic or Republican in his state's open primary, said he was surprised McCain would campaign in his main rival's home state.
Dan Kenary, a McCain supporter from Wellesley, also was pleasantly surprised to see his favored candidate here, so he brought his three sons to catch a glimpse of a potential future president, risking a late arrival to his Super Bowl party at home.
McCain, joined by US Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, and Lindsey O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, spent less than 15 minutes at the bar, sometimes called the "Headquarters of the Revolution" because of its historic prominence as a gathering place for the country's founders.
Chants inside the bar of McCain's motto "Mac is Back!" were followed by a chant of "Randy Moss 0-8!" by fans at a bar across the street who seemed distracted by the campaigning.
Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. John C. Drake can be reached at email@example.com.