PHOENIX — On April 25, 2007, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, John McCain officially announced his candidacy for president of the United States. On November 4, at precisely 9:18 p.m. PT, he officially ended it.
Speaking before hometown supporters at the Arizona Biltmore, McCain conceded the race for president to Democrat Barack Obama, congratulating his opponent on a "historic" victory and praising his perseverance.
"My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly," McCain said. "A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love."
At the mention of Obama's name, McCain's supporters booed and hissed, but he quickly silenced them, and after a pause, he spoke of Obama's ability to inspire disenfranchised voters and touted this election's special place in history.
"That he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who once wrongly believed they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving," McCain continued. "This is a historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."
McCain — who was joined onstage by his wife, Cindy; his running mate, Sarah Palin; and Palin's husband, Todd — called on those who supported him to now throw their support behind Obama, a suggestion that was met with more catcalls from the crowd. Still, he pressed on.
"Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt, many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight that I will do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face," McCain said. "I urge all Americans who supported me to join not only in congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and honest effort to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences."
McCain's speech was delivered on the Biltmore's Squaw Peak Lawn, the same site where, 24 years earlier, he had married his wife Cindy. And, somewhat fittingly — given both the location and the enormity of the moment — he continuously returned to the theme of history in his words.
"I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that too, but we both recognize that we have come a long way from the injustices that once stained our nations reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of citizenship," McCain said. "A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States."
The speech was supposed to be an invite-only capper to McCain's triumphant night at the Biltmore, but as election results began to pour in, the outlook changed, and by 9 p.m., the lawn was opened to everyone attending the Election Night rally. As supporters poured out of the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom — where they had been entertained throughout the night by acts like Hank Williams Jr. and the Phoenix Boys Choir — to make the trek to the lawn, most were inconsolable, some even in tears.
And though the mood on the lawn was sometimes sad and often angry — McCain's speech was interrupted by calls to "see Obama's birth certificate" on two occasions — some of his supporters seemed to recognize that, like their candidate, they had taken part in a historic election. And even if they came out on the losing end, they'll always have that feeling. Plus, with midterm elections just two years away, there's only so much time you can spend feeling sorry for yourselves.
"It hasn't really hit me yet," Ashley Kazimer, 20, said. "I don't know, it was such a big election, and the Republican Party is going to need our support going forward. Just because it didn't turn out your way this time, you can't say, 'I'm over it,' and quit."
"I thought John McCain was very gracious tonight, and I definitely agree with a lot of what he said, about how we need to move forward," Matt Salmon, 20, added. "I hear people talk about how they couldn't support Obama, but he is our president and I, like McCain, feel that we owe it to him to support him, whether or not we voted for him. We have to focus on being able to work across party lines and not be partisan. We need people who can work together, you know? United we stand."
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