Conceding, McCain Urges Supporters To Back Obama
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The man Obama defeated pledged to do everything in his power to help the president-elect, and urged his supporters to do the same. Republican John McCain offered congratulations to his opponent in a concession speech in his home state of Arizona last night, and NPR's Scott Horsley was listening.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Flying home from the last event in a campaign that stretched almost two years, John McCain told reporters he'd had a great ride. He'd covered untold miles in discount airlines, charter jets, and on his signature campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express. A few hours later, McCain stood in front of an enormous American flag outside a Phoenix hotel and told supporters they had reached the end of the road.
(Soundbite of John McCain's concession speech, Phoenix, Arizona)
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him...
(Soundbite of crowd jeering)
Senator MCCAIN: Please. To congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.
HORSLEY: It was a marked change of tone from a man who at times during the campaign had openly questioned Obama's devotion to the country. McCain praised his opponent's ability and perseverance, and said Obama's victory is all the more impressive for the way he's managed to inspire millions of people who previously felt left out of the process. McCain told his own supporters it's natural for them to feel some disappointment, but added, now is the time to move beyond that.
Senator MCCAIN: Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.
HORSLEY: Not everyone in the crowd was ready to follow that example, and there were some catcalls directed Obama's way. But Sandy Murray(ph) is one of many McCain backers who say they're willing to put partisan differences aside for now.
Ms. SANDY MURRAY: All of our lives, we all know we're Americans. And when it comes to a fight, we fight the fight. When it's over, you're still Americans. And we'll fight for our country no matter who the president is.
HORSLEY: McCain fought hard throughout the race and was still on the road campaigning as late as yesterday afternoon. Long the underdog, aides say it was important to McCain to cross the finish line with his head up, running all the way.
Senator MCCAIN: I wish the outcome had been different, my friends. The road was a difficult one from the outset.
HORSLEY: Senior adviser Steve Schmidt argues no candidate has ever had to wage the kind of uphill campaign McCain did carrying the banner of a party and an incumbent president that have fallen far out of favor.
Mr. STEVE SCHMIDT (Campaign Manager, McCain Campaign): The party's been very unpopular. The president's approval numbers were not helpful in the race. But the party as a whole is unpopular with the American people, and that was a big albatross.
HORSLEY: McCain took a telephone call yesterday from President Bush who congratulated him for giving the race his all. McCain also took personal blame for any shortcomings in his campaign while thanking his family, his staff, and his running mate, Sarah Palin.
Senator MCCAIN: We can all look forward with great interest to her future service to Alaska and the Republican Party in our country.
HORSLEY: As for McCain's own future, he still has his Senate seat. And he jokingly promised his family more peaceful years ahead. McCain told supporters at his very last campaign rally yesterday in Grand Junction, Colorado, that he has no regrets.
(Soundbite of Republican campaign rally, Grand Junction, Colorado)
Senator MCCAIN: You know that I've been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old, and it's been the honor of my life. And I've never lived a day in good times or bad that I didn't thank God for the privilege of serving the United States of America.
(Soundbite of crowd ovation)
Senator MCCAIN: I owe this country more than it will ever owe me.
HORSLEY: And though he didn't win the nation's highest office, McCain says he will continue to serve. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Phoenix.