McCain appeals for GOP support as Bush prepares for 'long race'
PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- Exuberant after passing his self-described "do-or-die" test with primary wins in Arizona and Michigan, Sen. John McCain on Tuesday urged Republican leaders to abandon rival George W. Bush and join the "McCain majority."
"Michigan sent a powerful message across America, a message that our party wants real reform from the real reformer," said McCain, taking a subtle jab at the Texas governor.
Sen. John McCain
Bush beat him handily in South Carolina last Saturday, evoking an angry concession speech in which McCain vowed to mount an aggressive challenge for Republican presidential nomination.
"What a difference a couple of days makes," the grinning Arizona senator told a packed house of supporters at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak in Phoenix. "We took on the iron triangle of big money, lobbyists and legislation and we won another battle."
Michigan is the biggest electoral prize thus far in the race, although the 58 delegates up for grabs were divided according to the vote in each of the state's congressional districts. McCain awaited results of both primaries on his home turf, which gave him a large victory on Tuesday.
"We scored a great victory here in the place that has always mattered most to me, my beautiful Arizona," said McCain, after picking up all 30 of the state's GOP delegates.
But there was at least one discouraging sign that McCain may have noticed as the election returns poured in from the Midwest blue-collar state. Exit polls revealed that only 49 percent of the electorate in the GOP primary were registered Republicans; 33 percent were independents, 18 percent Democrats.
"Many said that the establishment would carry the day. Instead, you the people did," said McCain, before making "a special plea to my fellow Republicans."
"I'm a proud Reagan conservative. I love the Republican party. It is my home," he said, rattling off a list of popular conservative issues for which he promised to fight, including overhauling the Internal Revenue Service, strengthening the military, promoting the anti-abortion agenda and cutting taxes.
But McCain also vowed that tax cuts would not top his economic agenda.
"I want to use the surplus the right way by keeping our obligation to shore up Social Security, fix Medicare and pay down the debt. Let's act like responsible adults today so we can cut our children's taxes tomorrow."
"Don't fear this campaign my fellow Republicans -- join it, join it," he implored.
"We are creating a new majority my friends, a McCain majority," the Arizona senator said, characterizing such as coalition as "Al Gore's worst nightmare."
"I will beat Al Gore like a drum," he said.
Bush: "It's a long race"
The Texas governor, who has all but conceded Arizona to McCain months ago, left Michigan on Tuesday night to attend an early evening rally in Kansas City, Missouri. Reporters relayed the Michigan results to him after the rally.
"If that's the case, I congratulate him," said Bush, apparently unfazed by the news. "I want to thank all the Republicans who supported me. I won overwhelmingly among Republicans in Michigan."
Gov. George W. Bush
Exit polls in Michigan showed McCain getting wide support from Independents and
Democrats in the open primary, while Republicans were voting by a roughly 2-1
margin for Bush.
"It's a long race, I'm fighting all the way to the end," he told reporters before departing for yet another Tuesday campaign event in Burbank, California.
"There's a lot of contests coming up. There will be some these primaries where only Republicans vote, there will be some where both the Republicans and Democrats vote on the same day."
Missouri is just one of 16 states that hold contests in the next two weeks. At the Kansas City rally, Bush made his own appeal to independents Tuesday night by touting himself as a "uniter and not a divider."
"If you are tired of the politics of pitting one group against another...then there is a place for you in the George W. Bush campaign," he said.