November 5, 2008

McCain Asks Backers to ‘Move Beyond’ Bitterness

By David Jackson and Kevin Johnson

PHOENIX -- In the shadow of desert mountains, Republican John McCain warmly congratulated President-elect Barack Obama late Tuesday and urged the nation to rally around its new president.

"It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment," McCain said at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, flanked by running mate Sarah Palin, his wife, Cindy, and other family members. "But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again."

McCain appealed to all Americans to help Obama "find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences."

When the crowd began booing Obama, McCain held up his arms to stop them, saying, "Please."

Despite McCain's gracious speech and his pleas to supporters to rally behind the president-elect, some of his backers at the Biltmore seemed bitter about the outcome.

"In four years, you're not going to recognize this country," said John Torgan, 63, a retired military bombmaker. "I've seen too much. I've spent half my life in the military. This is not good. He (Obama) comes from the cesspool we call Chicago," he said.

Craig Harmon, 53, a Phoenix-area property appraiser and registered Republican, blamed McCain's loss on "the economy and biased media. Mr. McCain should have taken the gloves off earlier."

McCain and his wife, Cindy, voted shortly after 9 a.m. Mountain Time at a Methodist church near their condominium. Supporters shouted encouragement such as "Thank you, senator," and "We love you!"

He then journeyed to Colorado and New Mexico to thank supporters and urge them to get friends to "get out there and vote" in his uphill race against Obama.

"I need your help," McCain told backers in Grand Junction, Colo. "Volunteer. Knock on doors. Get your neighbors to the polls. Drag them there, if you need to."

Throughout the day, McCain continued to cast himself as the underdog during a string of early-morning television interviews. Yet the 72-year-old senator expressed confidence that voters would deliver an upset.

Hours later, in conceding defeat, McCain said he is sure he made his share of campaign mistakes, but he did not specify them. "I won't spend a moment of the future regretting what might have been," he said.

A history buff, McCain noted that a century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt took heat for simply inviting a black man -- Booker T. Washington -- to dinner at the White House. "Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country," McCain said.

Palin and her husband, Todd, cast their votes in Alaska. The Palins then headed to Phoenix to join McCain at the Arizona Biltmore, where the Arizona senator has celebrated previous political successes. As McCain spoke of his defeat there Tuesday night, he called Palin "one of the best campaigners I have ever seen."

The election closed an important chapter in an extraordinary career.

The son and grandson of four-star admirals, McCain became a Navy pilot who spent five-and-a-half years in a Vietnamese prison camp after being shot down above Hanoi in 1967.

After the Vietnam War, McCain's work as a Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate sparked his interest in a political career. He married Cindy and moved to Arizona -- they held their reception at the Biltmore -- then won a U.S. House seat in 1982. He moved to the Senate four years later.

McCain's national profile grew during his 2000 presidential campaign, although George W. Bush won the nomination.

The second McCain presidential campaign melted down in the summer of 2007, when he ran out of money and lost nearly all of his staff. McCain clawed his way back, clinching the nomination in early March.

Since then, McCain, campaign manager Rick Davis and other campaign officials have cited the difficult environment facing any Republican candidate: an unpopular Republican president and a bad economy that became a full-blown crisis in September. They also noted Obama's immense fundraising advantage.

Bush called McCain on Tuesday night. "John, you gave it your all," the president said. "I'm proud of you, and I'm sorry it didn't work out. You didn't leave anything on the playing field."

In his speech, McCain -- who carried his home state of Arizona -- thanked supporters for giving him "the great honor of my life."

"Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much," McCain said. "And tonight, I remain her servant." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>