Victorious McCain: "I Love the Republican Party

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Fresh from Tuesday's double victories in Michigan and his home state of Arizona, Senator John McCain is appealing to traditional Republicans to join his campaign.

Addressing a victory rally in Phoenix Tuesday night, McCain spoke directly to the party faithful, whose votes he continues losing to rival George W. Bush. "Some want to fool you about me. I am a proud Reagan conservative," McCain said. "I love the Republican Party. It is my home."

With most precincts reporting by Wednesday morning, McCain won the Michigan primary by 7 points - taking 50 percent of the vote to Bush's 43 percent. Republican Alan Keyes was a distant third at 5 percent.

In Arizona, McCain's home state, the Senator's margin of victory was even bigger: McCain won that primary with 60 percent of the vote, while Bush took 36 percent and Keyes took 3 percent.

In Phoenix Tuesday night, a jubilant McCain made an attempt to appeal to conservatives by mentioning several traditional Republican themes, including rebuilding the military, protecting the unborn, and tax cuts: "Don't fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans. Join it. Join it. This is where you belong...We are creating a new majority -- a McCain majority and we are Al Gore's worst nightmare."

"We are patriots on a noble mission, to make this century America's best century and we are going to win," he said to sustained applause and cheers from the hometown audience. "As I look more electable, we'll start drawing more Republicans," he promised.

McCain's need to attract the party's traditional base was never more evident than it was in Michigan, where exit polls showed those who identified themselves as "very conservative" went for Texas Gov. George W. Bush by a margin of 76 percent to 15 percent, while those who described themselves as "some what conservative" supported Bush 55 percent to 35 percent for McCain.

When voters were asked to describe their party affiliation, 49 percent said they were Republican; 33 percent called themselves Independents and 18 percent said they were Democrats.

Those who identified themselves as Republicans supported Bush by a margin of 67 to 25 percent, while those who said they were Independents went for McCain 64 to 31 percent. Self-described Democrats supported McCain 82 percent to 13 percent.

Voters who described themselves as members of the religious right went for Bush by a margin of 67 to 24 percent.

Among union voters, McCain defeated Bush by a margin of 59 to 35 percent.

Asked to name the candidate they considered the "straight talker," 37 percent said McCain; 29 percent named Bush; 12 percent said both, and a like number said neither. When asked which candidate was the "real reformer," 22 percent named McCain; 16 percent Bush; 26 percent said both and 22 percent said neither.

Among veterans, McCain won by a margin of 53 to 39 percent and among those who said they made up their minds at the last minute, McCain won 64 to 33 percent.

Asked who stands the best chance of winning the November general election, 47 percent named Bush, while 41 percent named McCain.

The Michigan results were all the more remarkable, given the fact that four months ago Bush led McCain by a margin of 72-9 percent.

One McCain supporter in Michigan described his man's win as a "triumph over money and muscle," while other McCain supporters insisted the Michigan win showed their man's ability to build a winning coalition in November, including Independents and Democrats.

But Bush supporters warned Republicans that they face the danger of having the party hijacked by Democrats and Independents.

Sounding a similar theme, Michigan Gov. John Engler, who managed the Bush effort in his state, said he may have underestimated the number of Independents and Democrats who planned to turn out.

Engler also minimized the outcome of the popular vote, noting that in the important delegate count, "George Bush has a nice big win," taking an estimated 36 of the state's 58 delegates to this summer's national convention in Philadelphia. (The Michigan primary was not a winner-take-all contest.)

Engler accused McCain of "renting Democrats for a day," and added, "It will hurt him in states where only Republicans can vote."

"John McCain isn't party building. He's party borrowing," Engler insisted.

For his part, Bush characterized the contest as "a long race...I'm fighting all the way to the end." Then, working to place the best possible spin on what had to be a big time disappointment, Bush told reporters, "I won overwhelmingly among Republicans and like minded Independents."

Bush also attacked those who accused him of "anti-Catholic bigotry."

Bush conceded this much after learning that McCain had once again bested him in a primary race: "I want to congratulate my opponent for a race well run, but he's going to learn in the long run that it's Republicans and like-minded independents who are going to make the decision in the Republican primaries,'' Bush said.

The next major test for both candidates comes on February 29, when Virginia, North Dakota and Washington hold their GOP primaries.