- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2000

LOS ANGELES The fire seemed to have gone out of Sen. John McCain last night.
Mr. McCain pledged his "crusade" will go on despite his poor showing in yesterday's key round of primaries, but his concession speech after losing every major Super Tuesday state lacked the defiance he exhibited after his wins in New Hampshire and Michigan.
As it became obvious that Mr. McCain had fallen far short of his goals, he signaled he would not drop out of the race before Friday's Colorado contest. But he made no promises beyond that about future meetings with Super Tuesday victor George W. Bush.
"We may meet again in primaries a few days from now," a subdued Mr. McCain told a crowd of supporters in West Hollywood.
Still, he encouraged supporters gathered for his speech by promising to fight on even if he drops out of the race.
"I want to assure you all that our crusade continues tonight, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that and for as long as it takes to restore America's confidence and pride in the practice and institutions of our great democracy," he said in an uncharacteristically brief speech after California's polls closed at 11 p.m. EST.
"We will never give up that mission, my friends."
At what was to have been Mr. McCain's victory party, talk turned early in the evening to the inevitability of Mr. Bush winning the party's presidential nomination. The McCain campaign grew ever more subdued as bad news filtered westward from New York and Ohio.
Early in the night, after Mr. McCain won several New England states, campaign manager Rick Davis said with a jaunty smile, "We're winning in the places we expected to win."
"But," he said shrugging and shoving his hands in his trousers pockets: "Never a dull moment. Couldn't I use a dull moment."
As has become his habit on the day of votes, Mr. McCain stayed away from the press, allowing only a few photographers to see him make a round of morning radio calls. His aides pointedly stayed away from the party site, about three miles from Mr. McCain's hotel, where the press was already writing the post-mortems of the campaign even before the candidate's concession speech.
Mr. McCain and his aides emphatically denied he would leave the Republican Party to run as an independent. Still, published reports quoted anonymous aides as pressing him to do so.
Mr. McCain has pledged his loyalty to the party and to Mr. Bush, if he secures the nomination, despite the hard feelings that have developed in recent weeks.
Mr. McCain vowed he would not follow his political hero, Theodore Roosevelt, who did exactly that when he was denied the Republican nomination in 1912.
Leaving the Republican Party poses a considerable risk for Mr. McCain he would likely forfeit his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee and he would lose any chance at all of having any influence at the Republican convention this summer.
Just as polls closed on the East Coast, Mr. McCain issued a statement: "Cindy and I want to express our tremendous gratitude for the great support my campaign received at the polls today… . Clearly, our message of reform has had a powerful impact."
He ended with a plaintive call for all voters in states where polls remained open to "go to the polls and make their voice heard."
As if to quell speculation among reporters, aides followed Mr. McCain's written statement with a press release with the huge headline "McCain to campaign in Colorado and Illinois."
Colorado and Utah vote Friday and Illinois votes March 21. The campaign has already conceded that it has little chance of picking up many delegates in the next major round of primaries on March 14, when Mr. Bush's home state of Texas and other Southern states go to the polls.
Mr. McCain is scheduled to fly home to Arizona this morning, where aides say he will look at the results and decide what to do next. He has canceled all events for today and will spend the day at home.
While aides have refused to speculate about dropping out, they have been cautiously setting the stage for days for a possible disappointment in yesterday's polling.
"Even if he achieves a serious discussion of [campaign-finance reform], which I think he has, then he really has accomplished something," media consultant Greg Stevens said as Mr. McCain spoke at his final California rally Monday night.

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