By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
PHOENIX, March 3 -- Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was poised Monday to clinch the Republican nomination as his rival, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, barnstormed across Texas refusing to concede that the race is all but over.
Leaving for Texas after a weekend off the campaign trail at his cabin near Sedona, Ariz., McCain focused most of his comments to reporters on foreign policy, calling the Russian election of a successor to President Vladimir Putin "clearly rigged" and "unfortunate." He also condemned attacks on Israel from the West Bank and reiterated his support for a free-trade agreement with Colombia.
But in spite of an essentially insurmountable lead in delegates, McCain said, "I still respect the right of Governor Huckabee to stay in the race as long as he wants to."
McCain has 1,014 delegates to the Republican National Convention, according to a tally by the Associated Press. To secure the nomination, he must win 1,191. The primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont on Tuesday will award 256 delegates, giving McCain the possibility of wrapping up the most wide-open GOP nomination fight in decades.
In an e-mail to supporters, campaign manager Rick Davis predicted: "With wins in these states, John McCain will go 'over the top' and secure enough delegates to win the Republican nomination for President of the United States."
At a rally in Dallas on Monday morning, Huckabee appeared unbowed. Actor Chuck Norris, who introduced Huckabee to the crowd at Southern Methodist University, pleaded with the students to help Huckabee win Texas. He said that would lead to a convention fight.
"If [Huckabee] wins Texas, you know, John McCain can't get all 1,191 delegates," Norris said.
Huckabee mocked party officials who have urged him to step aside, saying the election is not yet over. "Texans are a stubbornly independent people," he told the crowd. "You don't tell 'em what they're going to do."
But McCain mostly ignored Huckabee as he continued to act like the party's nominee. At a news conference, he argued that he -- and neither of his two Democratic rivals -- would be best equipped in the case of a middle-of-the-night emergency.
Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) have traded accusations about that issue since Clinton's campaign aired an ad last week that featured a phone ringing in the White House, signaling a new crisis that a future president will have to deal with.
McCain cited his experience as a Navy officer and as a senator who focused for years on foreign policy and military issues.
"I've been involved in every major national security challenge for the last 20 years that has faced this country," McCain said, according to the Associated Press. "I look forward to having that debate as to who's most qualified in the event of a national crisis and the phone ringing at 3 a.m. in the White House."