McCain Looks to Tuesday for Big Boost

On this Super Sunday before Super Tuesday, the Patriots and Giants aren't the only ones looking for a title. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain feels like he's in the red zone and could cross the goal line for the GOP nomination soon.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

On this Super Sunday before Super Tuesday, the Patriots and Giants aren't the only ones looking for a title. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney got a bounce with a victory in the Maine caucuses yesterday.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Governor, Massachusetts; Republican Presidential Candidate): I think you're going to see a growing movement across this country to get behind my candidacy and to propel this candidacy forward.

HANSEN: But Republican John McCain still feels he's in the red zone and could cross the goal line towards the GOP nomination on Tuesday. McCain has been racking up political yardage since winning the Florida primary last week. But his Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee aren't giving up easily.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain sailed through the South yesterday, making stops in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Those are three of more than 20 states holding nominating contests on Tuesday, the day on which McCain thinks he can wrap up the GOP nomination. That doesn't mean he'll actually have enough delegates to secure the party's nod, but he could have such a commanding lead that other candidates walk away.

McCain's been focusing primarily on big, winner-take-all states to boost his delegate lead.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): I hope I am not too confident about Tuesday. I'm guardedly optimistic. I think we're doing well, but we're not taking anything for granted. That's why we're campaigning literally 24/7 between now and Tuesday.

HORSLEY: Well, maybe not literally. McCain will take some time off this afternoon, while most of the country is preoccupied with that other super competition. But as soon as the ball game is over, McCain will be campaigning in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey before heading home to Arizona to cast his own vote Tuesday afternoon.

He's also been reaching out to conservative Republicans who've long been wary of McCain, despite his pro-life views and his hawkish credentials on defense and deficits.

Sen. MCCAIN: I believe that the majority of Republican Party conservatives are convinced that I'm best equipped to lead this country, unify our party and to take on the challenge of radical Islamic extremism. And I think that's why we continue to gain support in the more conservative parts of the Republican Party.

HORSLEY: He'll need that support. His maverick streak on issues like campaign finance, which plays well with independent voters, has sometimes cost him with members of his own party. McCain's trying to win them over with a new ad campaign and a string of endorsements from high-profile conservatives. He thinks in the end, pragmatic conservatives will come around.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is counting on conservative voters to keep his candidacy alive. Romney campaigned Friday in Colorado, where he won the endorsement of the Denver Post. He told supporters that McCain is outside the Republican mainstream on issues such as immigration and global warning. And he criticized McCain's know-how on how to address a sagging economy.

Mr. ROMNEY: He has a number of things that are great strengths of his, but he happened to say that the economy is not his strong suit. Well, at a time like this, in a country like this, I think it's important to have a president for whom the economy is his strong suit.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

HORSLEY: Romney spent much of the day yesterday off the campaign trail, attending the funeral of Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley in Utah. Romney had worked with Hinckley several times while running the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and he says he consulted with Hinckley before making the decision to run for president.

Mr. ROMNEY: With a twinkle in his eye he said if you decide and you win, it'll be a great experience. If you run and lose, it'll also be a great experience.

HORSLEY: Romney's not yet ready to settle for that second option. After the funeral yesterday, he traveled to Minnesota to resume his campaign, which may be nearing the equivalent of the two-minute warning.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Atlanta.

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