President Bush yesterday called on conservatives to embrace the Republican nominee for president because “prosperity and peace are in the balance” in this year’s election.
In his first foray into 2008 campaign politics, Mr. Bush told a crowd of conservative activists that economic stability and national security demand they “fight for victory and keep the White House.”
The president did not mention by name Arizona Sen. John McCain, the all-but-certain Republican nominee who is often at odds with conservatives, but the remarks served to unite the party.
“We’ve had good debates, and soon we’ll have a nominee who will carry a conservative banner into this election and beyond,” Mr. Bush told the 35th annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
A day earlier, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stunned the conference with a speech announcing the suspension of his flagging presidential campaign, virtually handing the nomination to Mr. McCain.
Video: Bush thanks candidates at CPAC conference
DINAN ON THE REPUBLICANS: At CPAC, Bush chides McCain (sort of)
Mr. McCain, who weathered occasional booing during his speech Thursday, discouraged the notion that he is the presumptive Republican nominee at the conference, yesterday.
“I don’t want to in any way sidestep the candidacy of Governor Huckabee,” he said of the long-shot candidacy of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “He’s in this race, and for me to dismiss him would be inappropriate and unrealistic.”
On the campaign trail in Kansas, Mr. Huckabee also tried to shake off the perception that the nomination race is over.
“We still believe that there’s a chance to win this thing,” he said after a rally near Kansas City. “Any given day, a candidate can say one word that gets YouTubed, and his campaign’s done.”
The campaign advances today with Republican nominating contests in Kansas, Louisiana and Washington.
In Mr. Bush’s speech to the conference — his first address to the annual gathering since he took office — he thanked the crowd for years of support. He reaffirmed his faith in conservative ideals, which he said would be the cornerstone of his legacy.
“Our views are grounded in timeless truths,” he said. “We believe that the most reliable guide for our country is the collective wisdom of ordinary citizens. We believe our culture benefits from a diversity of faith, a respect for values and the guidance of a higher power.
“We believe in personal responsibility. We believe in the universality of freedom. We believe our nation has the right to defend itself — even if sometimes others disagree. And we believe America remains a force of good in our world.”
He said these values guided his administration, not polls or editorial pages.
“And we darn sure didn’t seek the approval of groups like Code Pink and MoveOn.org before deciding what to do,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush’s speech contained implicit criticisms of Mr. McCain as well when the president said history has proved his tax cuts grew the economy and his embryonic-stem-cell funding policy was the right choice for the pro-life movement. Mr. McCain fought both policies.
Voters in Washington state, Kansas and Louisiana take part in Republican contests today, even though Sen. John McCain essentially won the nomination with Thursday”s departure of Mitt Romney. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul remain in the race, but are nearly mathematically eliminated.
• WASHINGTON CAUCUSES:
The stakes: 18 Republican delegates.
• LOUISIANA PRIMARIES:
The stakes: 20 Republican delegates.
• KANSAS REPUBLICAN CAUCUSES:
The stakes: 36 Republican delegates.
Source: Associated Press