Skip to main content

McCain reaches out to Romney to unite GOP

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. John McCain clearly the GOP front-runner after Mitt Romney dropped out
  • McCain says he's ready to sit down with Romney to unite party
  • Arizona Republican was booed at conservative forum in Washington
  • Mike Huckabee continues to run, says voters deserve a choice

  • Next Article in Politics »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- GOP front-runner Sen. John McCain reached out to jittery conservatives Friday, saying he was ready to sit down with former candidate Mitt Romney to unite Republicans before the general election.

McCain became the nearly inevitable Republican presidential nominee Thursday when Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, dropped out of the race.

"I look forward to setting a date for meeting with [Romney] and continuing our efforts as we pledged yesterday to unite the party and move on to victory in November," McCain said in Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday.

Despite McCain's primary wins from coast-to-coast on Super Tuesday, conservatives have expressed uneasiness or outright hostility to his candidacy, including conservative radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham. Video Watch Beck speak out against McCain »

Many conservatives -- angered by McCain's positions on such issues as immigration, energy policy and campaign financing -- had pinned their hopes on Romney to stop McCain's momentum. Then, Super Tuesday results made it almost impossible for Romney to overcome McCain's delegate count lead. Video Watch Romney bow out »

Romney's departure leaves former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as the only top-tier candidate challenging McCain for the Republican nomination.

"I know that we have a lot of work to do to unite the party. I also know that Gov. Huckabee is still in this race, and he is a viable candidate," McCain said. Video Watch McCain call Huckabee 'viable' »

"So, I think that obviously we are pleased with the events that have happened as part of the campaign, but we still have a ways to go. And we'll continue campaigning," he said.

McCain was joined at the campaign event by Virginia Sen. John Warner, a leading Republican voice on defense issues, and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a former Republican presidential candidate who emphasized conservative values during his campaign.

On Friday, Huckabee showed no indication of dropping out of the race and falling in line behind McCain.

"I think Americans need a choice," Huckabee said during a campaign stop in Olathe, Kansas. "This idea that the process of an election becomes a coronation is about as far away from the process... elections are about giving people an option, letting them choose, make their decisions."

But Huckabee faces a daunting challenge despite scoring wins in five Southern states on Super Tuesday.

According to CNN calculations, Huckabee has 181 delegates to McCain's 714 after Super Tuesday. Huckabee argued, however, he might be able to challenge McCain's nomination at the national convention if Romney's delegates vote for him.

Don't Miss

"There's also a lot of factors that could happen. Any given day a candidate could say one word that gets 'YouTubed' and his campaign is done," Huckabee said.

Huckabee's campaign got a boost Thursday night when Focus on the Family founder and evangelical icon James Dobson endorsed him. Video Watch Huckabee say he was surprised by Dobson's endorsement »

"Obviously, the governor faces an uphill struggle, given the delegates already committed to Sen. McCain," Dobson said. "Nevertheless, I believe he is our best remaining choice for president of the United States."

Dobson also took aim at "media elites" for dismissing the influence of conservative Christian voters, and said the victories by Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, were "evidence of an energized and highly motivated conservative community."

When McCain spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on Thursday, the same forum where Romney announced he was dropping out of the race, he was booed when he discussed his immigration policy. Video Watch McCain reach out to conservatives »

McCain infuriated many conservatives last summer when he sponsored a comprehensive immigration bill with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy. Many conservatives labeled the bill "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

Conservatives have also attacked McCain for co-sponsoring campaign finance legislation and an energy policy bill with Sen. Joe Lieberman that they believe would have raised gas taxes to unacceptable levels.

CNN contributor and conservative talk show host Bill Bennett, however, said the reports of the negative response at the conservative conference were overblown and that McCain has started to repair the rift by talking about a need for increased border security.


"He said 'I've heard what you're saying. I'm going to secure the borders,'" Bennett said. "That will make a lot of people happy and make conversation possible."

"There's a different tone today... a different mood. people are adjusting to the idea of John McCain. Some of the talk show hosts are a little behind the people on this one." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand and Mary Snow contributed to this report.

All About John McCainMitt RomneyMike Huckabee

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print