McCain declares victory

In a speech, John McCain made the most of his victory in the key Florida primary.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 30, 2008 3:26AM (EST)

John McCain looked to be relishing his victory in Florida's Republican primary Tuesday night. Not only had he taken a state many observers see as key to the race, but he'd done so in a closed primary -- one open only to Republicans -- and thus silenced some of the criticism against him, for instance, that he can only win in primaries that include independents because Republicans by themselves will not choose him. In fact, that was the very first point McCain made in his victory speech. "Thank you, Florida Republicans, for bringing a former Florida resident across the finish line first in -- as I have been repeatedly reminded lately -- an all-Republican primary," McCain said.

Standing in front of his wife and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who'd thrown a high-profile endorsement McCain's way days ago, McCain sounded very much like a man who genuinely believes he's on his way to the Republican nomination.

"In one week we will have as close to a national primary as we have ever had in this country. I intend to win it, and be the nominee of our party. And I intend to do that by making it clear what I stand for," McCain said. Some of the speech, too, seemed designed as an olive branch to other Republicans. Larded with references to conservatism, to McCain's conservative credentials and beliefs and to party standard-bearer Ronald Reagan, it was both a call for votes and a plea for unity -- in the case he should win the nomination -- made to a Republican base that dislikes him.

"I stand for the principles and policies that first attracted me to the Republican Party when I heard, in whispered conversations and tap codes, about the then Governor of California, who stood by me and my comrades, and who was making quite a reputation for standing by his convictions no matter the changing winds of political thought and popular culture ... And I am as proud to be a Reagan conservative today, as I was then," McCain said. "Our party has always been successful when we have, like Ronald Reagan, stood fast by our convictions. And we have only suffered when our allegiance to our principles has not been as steadfast as it should. I intend to make my stand on those principles, and I am confident we will succeed in this contest and in the bigger one in November against anyone the Democratic Party nominates."

On Fox News, anchor Brit Hume observed about the speech, "It had a certain sense of what one might call finality about it. There was something about the way he thanked and said a kind word about each of his opponents that gave one the real feeling that John McCain felt that something important had happened tonight, that a page had been turned -- a river crossed, perhaps -- and that his campaign now stands on a different footing than it did before tonight."

One other interesting moment: Though he was courteous to all his opponents, McCain seemed to make special reference to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. McCain called Giuliani -- who will reportedly be dropping out of the race Wednesday and endorsing McCain -- "my dear friend," and looked unable to suppress a small smile when his supporters broke into applause at the line.

With his victory tonight, McCain wins all of Florida's 57 delegates to the Republican convention.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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