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McCain clinches Republican nomination

John McCain, Arizona senator and veteran Vietnam War hero, capped one of the greatest comebacks in US political history and clinched the Republican nomination on March 4. (Report: H. Papper)

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John McCain capped one of the greatest comebacks in US political history to clinch the Republican presidential nomination, and come out firing against his eventual Democratic rival.

"I am very pleased to note that tonight, my friends, we have won enough delegates to claim with confidence, humility and a sense of great responsibility that I will be the Republican nominee for president of the United States," McCain told a victory rally in Dallas late Tuesday.

It ended months of uncertainty in the once muddled Republican race, which at one point had some eight candidates all chasing the nomination.

And it's another chapter in the larger-than-life story of the 71-year-old Vietnam war veteran who has more than once defied the odds.

The Arizona senator immediately served notice that he intended to fight his presidential campaign on some of the toughest issues facing the country -- national security and the war in Iraq.

"America is at war in two countries, and involved in a long and difficult fight with violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself," he warned.

He vowed to continue his tough stand on the war in Iraq, against Democratic calls for the troops to be withdrawn.

"I will defend the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime as I criticized the failed tactics that were employed, for too long, to establish the conditions that will allow us to leave that country, with our country's interests secure and our honor intact," he said.

And he pledged "the swiftest possible conclusion" to the war without allowing sectarian conflict to degenerate into "genocide" or allow "terrorists to attack us elsewhere with weapons we dare not allow them to possess."

"The next president must lead an effort to restructure our military, our intelligence, our diplomacy and all relevant branches of government to combat Islamic extremism, encourage the vast majority of moderates to win the battle for the soul of Islam, and meet the many other rising challenges in this changing world."

As a Vietnam war veteran and hero who spent almost six years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton as a prisoner of war, McCain's credentials to be the country's wartime commander-in-chief are impeccable.

But conservatives have been angered by his positions on fiscal reform and immigration, and he has earned a reputation as a maverick.

 

Out of funds mid-2007

Tuesday's clean sweep in all four nominating contests in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island saw him deal a knockout blow against his last serious Republican challenger, Mike Huckabee.

It capped a remarkable turn around in his political fortunes, as McCain's second bid for the White House had all but been written off in mid-2007 after he nearly ran out of funds.

He was forced to drastically scale back his campaign before the first vote was even cast, but was still seen as a long-shot candidate with former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani as the favorite.

But then came McCain's triumph in the New Hampshire primaries in early January, and suddenly he was back in the game.

Steadfastly and tenaciously he stood his ground, chipping away at the support for other candidates such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, as one by one they fell by the wayside.

As McCain declared victory Tuesday, his supporters celebrated next to a huge board bearing the number of 1,191 -- the magic total of delegates needed to secure the nomination.

But he still has a hard battle ahead to convince conservative voters that he is the man to take over from Republican President George W. Bush.

McCain was due to meet with Bush at the White House on Wednesday, in what could be an uneasy alliance between the two, after the US president scuppered McCain's 2000 White House bid.

In an interview last month with Fox News, Bush said: "I think that if John is the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative, and I'll be glad to help him if he is the nominee."

Shot down as a naval aviator over North Vietnam in 1967, McCain was captured by an angry mob, beaten, bayoneted in the ankle and groin, and taken prisoner.

His treatment as a POW was so brutal he still cannot raise one of his arms high enough to comb his hair.

Perhaps the biggest handicap he now faces is his age. If he wins the November elections, he would be the nation's oldest ever president entering the White House in January 2009 at the age of 72.

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