TOPICS > Politics

McCain Seals GOP Nomination, Capping Comeback

BY Admin  March 5, 2008 at 2:35 AM EDT

Arizona Sen. John McCain; AP photo

The Arizona
senator’s last remaining major rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, made
good on his promise to drop out of the GOP race when another candidate reached
the nomination-clinching 1,191-delegate mark. The decision left McCain the
presumptive nominee, a fact highlighted by an expected endorsement by President
Bush Wednesday.

McCain can now begin his general election campaigning while
the Democratic candidates continue to navigate a protracted nominating race.

“Our campaign must be — and will be — more than
another tired debate of false promises, empty sound-bites, or useless arguments
from the past that address not a single American’s concerns for their family’s
security,” McCain told supporters in Dallas after his string of victories
Tuesday night secured the GOP nod.

For
McCain, success came on his second try for the White House. He lost the GOP
nomination to President Bush in 2000 after being derailed in South Carolina — a state that helped propel
him to the front of the GOP pack this election year.

But
the string of victories comes after an uncertain summer during which McCain
survived staffing shakeups and severe fundraising shortfalls.

He
managed to stave off the more conservative Huckabee, the better-funded
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the television star and former Sen. Fred
Thompson and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — known internationally
from his leadership after Sept. 11.

“His
candidacy turned out to have greater resilience than anybody expected,”

Judy Woodruff said of McCain on Tuesday’s NewsHour. “He
was written off for dead, for gone last summer. People were saying ‘we’re not
going to hear from John McCain again. This is history.’ But he, through …
perseverance, he stayed on the campaign trail. He was traveling around with no
aides. And slowly but surely, one day at a time and $1 at a time he built
himself back up to a place where, you know, people had to take him seriously.
It really is an extraordinary story.”

On Wednesday, McCain is scheduled to appear with the
President Bush to receive the endorsement of the man that beat him in a brutal
primary campaign eight years ago.

McCain
pledged a “respectful, determined and convincing case to the American
people” in the general election campaign. As McCain spoke, supporters
raised an enormous banner bearing “1191″, the magic number of
delegates needed to win the GOP nomination, to serve as a backdrop for his
victory celebration in Dallas.

“The
most important race begins,” he said in an Associated Press interview,
looking ahead to a fall campaign against either Obama or Clinton, with the
country fighting an unpopular war and on the brink of a possible recession.

With the front-loading of this year’s nominating calendar in
mind, McCain’s clinching of the nomination comes earlier than the most recent
contests. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry locked the Democratic nomination on March 2
– the earliest in recent history. In 2000, Bush and former Vice President Al Gore
clinched their parties’ nominations on March 14.

Huckabee conceded defeat on an upbeat note, citing the stunning
victory in the leadoff Iowa
caucuses on Jan. 3 and a string of wins across the South as proof his equally
unlikely campaign had been well fought.

“My
commitment to him [McCain] and the party is to do everything possible to unite
our party, but more important to unite our country so that we can be the best
we can be,” Huckabee said during his concession speech in Irving, Texas.

Last month, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin wrote that McCain
has plenty to do while the Democrats continue to battle over their nomination.
The senator has time to rest, raise money, plan the national convention,
rebuild bridges with the more conservative wing of the Republican Party and, of
course, pick his running mate — an issue that’s sure to be a concern for the
man who would be the oldest person elected to his first term.

Analysts have wasted no time in assessing the field of
possible contenders for the second spot on the GOP ticket.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, told the AP that
the most reassuring person McCain could pick in the Republican Party would be
retired Gen. Colin Powell, a former secretary of state and former Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell, 70, has said he does not want the job but
Brinkley said GOP party elders might be able to persuade him.

Other possibilities include Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, 51,
who could help McCain win the battleground state of Florida
in the November election, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 47, who could do the
same in Minnesota.

There are plenty of other names: Texas Sen. Kay Bailey
Hutchison, who has said she does not want it; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey
Graham; Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; and former White
House budget director Rob Portman, a former member of the U.S. Congress from Ohio.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said McCain’s choice may well
depend on whether Democrat Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins the nomination.

“A vice presidential nominee against one might not be
the best choice if you’re running against the other,” Ayres told the AP.
“If it’s Clinton,
it might place a higher premium on a woman. If it’s Obama, it might place a
higher premium on an African-American.”