Exactly 24 hours after exhorting Nevada voters Monday that victory remained within his reach, U.S. Sen. John McCain congratulated President-elect Barack Obama in one of the finest concession speeches ever delivered.
On Tuesday, McCain was the Republican many Democrats would have supported eight years ago, but now rejected. Gracious and stylish, his speech was a real example of country first.
On Monday, a wildly cheering crowd of more than 10,000 people at the Henderson Pavilion acted as if his victory were merely a formality. They didn’t believe the polls, which showed him trailing the senator from Illinois.
Conservative radio talk show host Heidi Harris revved up the jubilant crowd by shouting, “We are going to show them we are not going to let the media control how all America thinks.” (Pretty funny, considering she’s a member of the media who tells listeners how to think.)
The next speaker, Assembly candidate Melissa Woodbury, said Democrats “think this is their year. We can show them they’re wrong.” The next day, Woodbury became one of the few Clark County Republicans to win her election, evidence that being the daughter of Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury still counts for something.
But she should abandon any thoughts of pursuing fortune telling. Democrats swept partisan offices up and down the Nevada ballot, took control of the state Senate for a 12-9 majority, and strengthened their control of the Assembly to 28-14, giving the Democrats a veto-proof two-thirds majority.
The next three Republican speakers at the rally all lost their races the next day — U.S. Rep. Jon Porter and state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers — but during the election eve rally, they exuded nothing but confidence.
I sat near two joyful McCain supporters who had worked on his behalf during the past two months and were attending their first big political rally. Sue Bowers and Elaine Briten danced with delight. “I feel better about his chances than I did a week ago,” said Bowers, brimming with optimism.
When McCain’s speech ended, Briten summed it up: “That’s a sincere, honest, good man.”
I watched McCain’s campaign speech through a different filter, as one who thought the polls showing an Obama win were probably right. When the Arizona senator said, “This momentum and this enthusiasm convinces me we are going to win tomorrow,” it sounded like false bravado, and I felt sorry for him.
Later he said, “If I’m elected … I mean when I’m elected.” He seemed to foresee what was to come. “They may not know it, but the Mac is back,” he said on the eve of the election.
But the Mac wasn’t back and never will be a presidential contender again, although he will return to the U.S. Senate.
About 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Rio, a roar from Democrats at the first floor convention center was so powerful, I could hear it 20 floors up in the suite where Secretary of State Ross Miller was working. A television network had just proclaimed Obama the president-elect.
McCain didn’t dilly-dally. He gave his concession speech in Phoenix, first recognizing the historical significance of America electing its first biracial president and expressing sympathy that Obama’s “beloved grandmother did not live to see this day.”
Then he had a Dwight Eisenhower moment. “We fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours,” McCain said. That’s the John McCain I want to hold dear in my memory. The one willing to shoulder responsibility.
Gen. Eisenhower, after ordering the D-Day invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944, left a note to be released if the invasion failed. “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
McCain urged his supporters to offer Obama “our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”
Former Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat, turned to me as soon as McCain’s speech ended and called it “the finest concession speech in history.”
And he was right. McCain’s last hurrah was worthy of him.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.