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McCain: All votes in play

Times Staff Writer

All but written out of the presidential race last summer, John McCain crossed the finish line for the Republican nomination in first place Tuesday night, when he won the final batch of delegates he needed to clinch.

As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, his chief remaining opponent, bowed out of the race and told his supporters it was time to “hit the reset button” and get behind McCain, the Arizona senator was making plans to visit the White House today for what amounts to his party’s coronation -- the endorsement of President Bush.

As McCain took the stage at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, hand in hand with Cindy McCain, his supporters unfurled a giant blue banner bearing the magic number of delegates -- 1,191. McCain won all four Republican primaries: Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas.

“We have won enough delegates to claim with confidence, humility and a great sense of responsibility that I will be the Republican nominee,” McCain said after the strains of his now-familiar “Rocky” theme had faded out.

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He pledged to make “a respectful, determined and convincing case” that he is the best person for the job and accused the Democrats of merely offering “useless arguments from the past” that do not address the security concerns of American families.

McCain vowed to compete in states Republicans have written off and to reach out to “communities of all ethnic backgrounds and income levels.”

Before his victory Tuesday night, McCain told reporters it was time to broaden the campaign beyond the narrow scope of the Republican primaries. “We will contest every constituency in America -- whether they be workers; whether they be Hispanic, whether they be African American -- we’re competing for their vote.”

In recent days, McCain has frequently emphasized that he will try to win California. His advisors believe his work on the controversial immigration legislation that included a path to citizenship for many of the nation’s illegal immigrants will provide an inroad to Latino voters, particularly in the Golden State.

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During a stop in San Antonio on Tuesday morning, McCain disputed a reporter’s suggestion that Democrats would have an advantage with Latino voters this fall. He said his advocacy for free trade, equal opportunity and small-business initiatives, as well as his strong anti-abortion record, was “in keeping with the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the Hispanic community.”

“I intend to do very well, and I know we are doing very well,” he said.

But the focus of McCain’s speech Tuesday night was squarely on his leadership on national security issues, which his campaign considers his greatest strength.

He has repeatedly suggested that his Democratic rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, are bickering over a moot issue when they debate the decision to invade Iraq.

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“It is of little use for Americans for their candidates to avoid the many complex challenges of these struggles by re-litigating decisions of the past,” McCain said in Dallas. " . . . Americans know that the next president doesn’t get to re-make that decision.”

Without mentioning his opponents by name, McCain took digs at Obama for offering “platitudes” on the stump and at Clinton for her “nostalgia” about her husband’s two terms in the White House.

“We’re the world’s leader, and leaders don’t pine for the past and dread the future,” he said.

Logistically, Tuesday night’s win means the thinly stretched McCain campaign can now work with the Republican National Committee to set up a campaign structure across all 50 states.

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McCain strategist Charles Black said the campaign has maintained a hiring freeze instituted last fall.

“It makes no sense to staff up the campaign until you know about the RNC resources,” Black said. “Once you have a nominee identified, they and the party are joined at the hip.”

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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