John McCain stepped into the winner’s circle last night when he clinched the Republican nomination for President of the United States. The 71-year-old former POW and longtime Arizona Senator faces some conservative opposition due to his controversial positions on immigration, campaign finance and torture, but Republicans have begun to rally behind him.
McCain, often dubbed a political “maverick,” used all his political skills to sail effortlessly through the latest round. Yesterday’s clear cut victories in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island were enough to push McCain over the magic 1191 delegate number. He must have been gladdened by the inevitable exit of his only remaining opponent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee had pledged to remain in the race until someone captured the 1191 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. He delivered his exit speech within moments of McCain’s achieving that goal. Huckabee told a cheering crowd he called to congratulate McCain and now “we must do everything possible to unite our country.”
“No one’s ever gotten this far with such limited resources,” said Huckabee, then quoting the Apostle Paul who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.”
No sooner did he concede than he declared “we must do everything we can to help Senator McCain.” He thanked his supporters and urged to “win for our future’s sake.”
McCain is expected to receive the endorsement of President George W. Bush today followed by a ceremony at the Republican National Committee where Chairman Mike Duncan will make the nomination official. It will be a moment long awaited for McCain, who came close to the nomination against Bush in 2000. Many have seen McCain as the “next in line” for years and his campaign nearly faltered last summer — but the man with a reputation of stubbornness and temper has overcome his greatest obstacle.
To the tune of “Eye of the Tiger,” a beaming John McCain and his wife, Cindy, thanked the four states that propelled him to victory. A large sign reading “1191” framed the background of the crowd while McCain applauded Huckabee’s campaign and claimed the hardest part of the campaign was yet to come.
“We must make a respective, determined and convincing case the American people that my campaign — given alternatives provided by [Democrats] are in the best interests of the country we love,” said McCain.
He defended his record, including the decision to take down Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and to continue the mission in Iraq. “I owe my country every opportunity I have ever had,” he said. “Our most vital security interests are clearly involved [in Iraq].”
As the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton slogs on (though delegate math points toward an Obama win), McCain’s candidacy may take a backseat to the Democrat drama. In a post-primary analysis, political strategist Karl Rove said the lack of attention could move McCain from “page one to page two to page three,” which may thwart voters’ attention to Democrats and hurt McCain in November.
McCain faces a battle of money raising and heart changing to make a strong case against the Democrats. His staunch support of the Iraq war could deter the moderate and independent voters necessary to win. However, American voters are generally center-right and when national security is so vital, many may pull the lever for the one candidate who has a clear advantage in that area, John McCain.
A March Fox 5/Washington Times/Rasmussen poll found that Republicans find Obama and McCain almost equally “likeable,” a historically significant trait in candidates. (Clinton never rates well in this category.) However, McCain’s extensive political experience, war record and long standing policy positions will be a tough match up for the youthful, two-year Illinois Senator.
Once the Democratic nomination is sealed, the final campaigns will begin. John McCain has been preparing for years. Barack Obama has little but charisma and undefined hope to stand upon. But Hillary Clinton isn’t out of the race by any means. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination, McCain will have a tough fight ahead.