By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
PHOENIX, Nov. 4 -- Standing under a cool desert sky Tuesday night before his subdued and somewhat petulant supporters, John McCain called on them to embrace Barack Obama's election as a sign of how much America has progressed over the past century.
"I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound," McCain said. "Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on earth."
His backers cheered at that, as well as when he said that the disagreements he had with the new president paled in comparison to what they had in common. "Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans, and please believe me when I say, no association has ever meant more to me than that."
The soaring, powerful speech marked the reemergence of the McCain who had largely disappeared from the national scene in recent weeks: a politician who prized conciliation and bipartisanship above polarization and short-term political gain. He vowed to play a constructive role under the next administration, saying: "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."
But as McCain delivered his remarks, some adherents could not conceal their disgust with his opponent. "Although we fell short, the failing is mine, not yours," he told them, and they roared back in disagreement, before chanting "Nobama!" and "We love John!"
Most McCain supporters refused to acknowledge that their candidate was losing until minutes before he called Obama to concede: Susan Helsel, a substitute teacher in Tempe, Ariz., who turns 62 Wednesday and was hoping to get a McCain presidency as a birthday present, said an hour before McCain conceded: "I just can't see an Obama presidency. I don't want to be in a socialist government."
"We were hoping for better results. We were expecting better results," said Rich Fiore, a resident of Shelton, Conn., who had watched sadly earlier in the evening as his congressman, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), lost. "I'm really concerned about where the Republicans are headed."
McCain chose to end his campaign at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Arizona Biltmore hotel, where he and wife Cindy held their wedding reception nearly three decades ago. For McCain's speech, the campaign chose as a backdrop the dramatic Piestewa Peak -- named for the first Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military, in 2003 in Iraq -- augmenting the scenery with a massive American flag and large towers draped with blue and yellow bunting.
The former Navy pilot and Vietnam War POW fought until the end of the campaign, traveling Tuesday to Grand Junction, Colo., and Albuquerque for his final campaign stops.