McCain, Bush Comment on Primary Results

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - While Republican John McCain goes off in search of Republican support, George W Bush wryly noted that "I just didn't do very well amongst the Democrats" in Tuesday's Michigan primary.

McCain won both of Tuesday's Republican primaries, in Michigan and Arizona. Both McCain and Bush spoke to NBC News late Tuesday night after the vote was counted.

"I was certainly pleasantly surprised at the size of the turnout," said Arizona John McCain, speaking of the Michigan primary. He said he was "astonished" to learn that 28 percent of those voting in the Michigan primary had never voted before. "That's almost unheard of," he said.

Asked how he can win the Republican primary if he can't get Republicans to vote for him (Republicans turned out by a two-to-one margin for Bush in Michigan), McCain noted that he did get a majority of Republicans in New Hampshire. "I believe now that we've won here we'll be able to get a lot of Republicans to look at my candidacy ... I have to convince them that I am a conservative Republican, but a reformist."

McCain said he thinks what happened in Michigan may have been a backlash against negative ads run by the Bush campaign. "It is wrong to say that Warren Rudman is a bigot," he said, referring to telephone messages placed on behalf of the Bush campaign by Christian conservative Pat Robertson.

In those telephone messages played for Michigan voters, Robertson attacked former US Senator Warren Rudman, one of the co-chairmen of McCain's presidential campaign. Robertson accused Rudman of being " a vicious bigot who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes and would-be censors," and in that same phone message, he said, "John McCain refused to repudiate these words."

(Rudman made the comments in 1995 in defense of General Colin Powell, whose professed pro-choice stance on abortion angered some Christian conservatives.)

Asked if he will return to negative advertising in the days ahead, McCain said he will continue to point out "that when [Bush] says he's a reformer, he's not, and that's a matter of record. I will be defining the differences between us, and very legitimately so."

As for Bush's loss in Michigan and Arizona, "He certainly didn't give people a reason to vote for him," McCain said.

McCain said his campaign is still an uphill battle. "We're still behind, still got a long way to go."

Asked what happened to him in Michigan, Bush noted that "I got by far the vast majority of Republicans, and when you combine the Republicans and Independents, I won that race, too. I just didn't do very well amongst the Democrats," he said.

Bush says what happened in Michigan doesn't mean he can't attract Democrats and Independents in the general election: "I think when I'm the nominee, you're going to find I attract a lot of new faces and new voices - a lot of Democrats."

"There's a difference between attracting people who are going to stay with you throughout the entire race and people who come into our primary to make a statement and then intend to support Al Gore in the general election."

"I'm going to be the Republican nominee, I believe that. This has been a long marathon,
Bush said. He said his spirits are high as he heads into races in which he expects to do well:

"There's a lot of states where Democrats and Republicans will be voting the same day. There's a lot of states where I'm pretty well known - Texas, Florida. It's going to be a good contest, and I think a good spirited fight for the Republican nomination is going to be good for our nominee and good for the party as well."

Bush agreed that phone calls made on behalf of the McCain campaign calling him "anti-Catholic" did touch a raw nerve with him. "I'm not anti-anything," said Bush "I don't like to be accused of being a bigot. No one wants to be called a bigot."

As for his appearance at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, Bush said he was trying to get college students to accept his tenets. "I don't have to accept their tenets," he said. "I reject any labeling made because I happened to go to the University," he said.