SALEM, N.H., 11:30 a.m. — Jack Neal said he doesn’t mind all the cars parked in front of his house here in a middle-class neighborhood near the Woodbury School, a local middle school.

Neal, 61, said he was glad they had come. The crowds were there to watch Senator John McCain speak at a town hall meeting on Sunday afternoon. And Neal, a Republican, said he hopes they will vote for McCain, too.

He will, for one thing.

“I’m a veteran, and he served in the military,” Neal said. “I just like him.”

Neal said he made up his mind about McCain in the last few weeks — echoing a trend among New Hampshire Republicans, according to recent polls.

And at the town hall meeting, which was filled to capacity, it was no wonder why a man like Neal, who served in the Army from 1968 to 1970, might like McCain.

“My first priority is to take care our veterans,” the Arizona senator told his supporters.

The crowd ate it up. “Romney is done,” a reporter standing nearby said to a colleague. “He’s got no shot.”

Sure enough, McCain is surging, and the crowd here showed why. Nearly a thousand people packed this middle school gymnasium to hear McCain speak. The crowd, neighbors said, was much larger than when Senator Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 spoke at the school a few weeks ago.

At the town hall meeting, an attendee queried McCain on fiscal responsibility, noting that, in the voter’s view, “you’re in purgatory right now.”

McCain did not miss a beat.

“Well,” he quipped, “that’s a step up from where I was last summer.”

— Thomas Kaplan