McCain Clinches GOP Presidential Nomination
Huckabee Drops Out as Senator Wins Four Primaries
By Michael D. Shear and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 4, 2008; 11:00 PM
Sen. John McCain clinched the Republican presidential
nomination tonight, and he immediately castigated his
potential Democratic rivals as liberals who lack the
experience and wisdom to lead a country facing
economic distress at home and engaged in war abroad.
The senator from Arizona easily won primaries in Texas
and three other states, becoming the new face of the
Republican Party and, at last, capturing the prize
that had eluded him for a decade. The victories ended
one of the great tests of political endurance for a
man whose personal mettle was forged by five years in
a North Vietnamese prison.
His political ambitions were dashed in 2000 by George
W. Bush and again seemed to end last summer amid staff
infighting and financial chaos. But McCain soldiered
on, emerging tonight as the far-from-universal choice
of a fractured Republican Party. His remaining rival,
former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, captured about
a third of the vote in Texas, signaling the
frustrations that conservatives still feel about
Campaigning in Texas, McCain told reporters he will
"await the outcome" on the Democratic side. But in his
victory speech at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, McCain
made it clear that he will immediately begin to make
his case that the country cannot afford to have either
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama as
"I will leave it to my opponent to argue that we
should abrogate trade treaties, and pretend the global
economy will go away and Americans can secure our
future by trading and investing only among ourselves,"
he said to a screaming crowd. "I will leave it to my
opponent to propose returning to the failed,
big-government mandates of the '60s and '70s to
address problems such as the lack of health-care
insurance for some Americans."
McCain added enough delegates today to take him over
the 1,191 he will need at the party's national
convention in September. Huckabee conceded after the
polls closed, saying he called McCain to congratulate
him for an "honorable" campaign and pledging "to do
everything possible to unite our party, but more
importantly to unite our country."
McCain was scheduled to travel to the White House in
the morning at the invitation of President Bush,
according to Republican sources.
Standing in front of a banner with the number "1,191"
on it -- the number of delegates he needed to clinch
the nomination -- and flanked by two large American
flags, McCain vowed that his campaign "will be more
than another tired debate of false promises, empty
sound bites, or useless arguments from the past." He
focused much of his speech on terrorism and the Iraq
"America is at war in two countries and involved in a
long and difficult fight with violent extremists who
despise us, our values and modernity itself," McCain
said. "It is of little use to Americans for their
candidates to avoid the many complex challenges of
these struggles by re-litigating decisions of the
Those who cast ballots in Texas and Ohio, the two
biggest contests, overwhelmingly supported McCain. He
won easily among independents, Republicans, men and
women, and those of all ages.
But several groups of voters continued to express
their dislike of McCain. Evangelicals and Texans who
call themselves "very conservative" voted for Huckabee
in greater numbers than for McCain. The senator also
lost among people who said their top issue was making
sure the candidate shared their values.
Looking toward the long march to November, McCain
acknowledged that he will need to raise more money and
find a way to pull together a Republican Party whose
splits have been revealed in the primaries, with the
underfunded Huckabee winning a string of unlikely
"We have a lot of work to do to unite our party and to
energize it," said McCain, who heads from Washington
to Palm Beach, Fla., to begin a swing dominated by
McCain's top political adviser, Charles Black, said a
priority will be to meet with officials at the
Republican National Committee to mobilize the national
and state parties, which will be critical to the
Now that he has become the de facto head of the GOP,
McCain will essentially take over the committee's
operations, turning its research, get-out-the-vote
operations and communications into an arm of his
Looking toward November, McCain has so far aimed much
of his criticism at Obama, whose performance leading
up to today's primaries appeared to make him the
likely nominee. But the tight races in those
Democratic contests made it clear that McCain and the
Republicans must be ready to face Clinton, too.
Top McCain strategists think the fight between Obama
and Clinton will give them time to raise money,
develop their strategy and define their own candidate
to a national audience before a full assault by
Democrats. McCain has already begun to paint both
potential rivals as dangerous liberals.
"Either candidate, either Senator Clinton or Senator
Obama, we will have stark differences. They are
liberal Democrats. I am a conservative Republican," he
told an audience in Texas. He eased through congenial
events at eateries in San Antonio and Houston before
flying to Dallas to await returns.
McCain talked about the themes he hopes will drive the
fall campaign. Mentioning the economy briefly and
defending free trade, he quickly moved on to national
security, the issue he considers his greatest strength
against the eventual Democratic nominee.
Three times, he referred to "transcendent radical
"It's hard for us to encompass the enormity of the
evil that we are facing," McCain said, drawing
sympathetic boos when he said Obama and Clinton want
to withdraw from Iraq. "If they did that, we would be
back, and we need to win, and we are winning. . . .
Al-Qaeda is on the run, but they're not defeated."
Slevin reported from the McCain campaign in Texas.