John McCain sought to mend his tattered relationship with conservatives and unify a splintered GOP as he all but clinched the party’s presidential nomination Thursday. Mitt Romney, his former chief rival, dropped out, and a parade of prominent Republicans swung behind the Arizona senator.
“We’re continuing campaigning and not taking anything for granted,” McCain said in an Associated Press interview, still reluctant to call himself anything more than the front-runner. “I certainly think that we have enhanced our chances.”
Only Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul remained in what has been a crowded and wide-open nomination fight for the past year. Both have narrow voting constituencies and are far behind in the hunt for delegates to the GOP’s nominating convention this summer.
Romney’s departure left McCain, whose independent streak rankles many in the Republican rank-and-file, poised to assume President Bush’s position as the party standard-bearer. It was a remarkable turnaround for McCain, whose campaign was barely alive last summer, out of cash and losing staff.