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CAMPAIGN '08: SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY

Victory wipes out pain of 2000 loss

January 20, 2008|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

CHARLESTON, S.C. — John McCain waited eight years to savor this moment: a decisive South Carolina victory that could wash away the bitter memories of his 2000 defeat here, ending his first presidential campaign.

For much of the day, it looked nail-bitingly close. Exit polls showed Mike Huckabee closing in. The wet, cold weather raised concern about the hoped-for high turnout. As sheets of rain drenched McCain strongholds along the South Carolina coast Saturday morning, the Arizona senator admitted he was nervous.

"We did everything that we could, the campaign went as well as it could and you can't do anything about the weather," he told reporters.

But by 10 p.m., with the victory clinched, McCain took the stage in a charcoal suit, clutching the hand of his wife, Cindy, and gave the crowd two thumbs up.

"It took us a while," he said, "but what's eight years among friends?"

In 2000, McCain was the upstart candidate. A surprise victor in New Hampshire that year, he was defeated in South Carolina by the better-organized and better-financed George W. Bush, who went on to win the presidency.

But Saturday night McCain strode on stage looking like an establishment candidate, flanked by some of the state's most powerful leaders.

McCain wasted no time reminding the crowd that every Republican candidate who has won South Carolina since 1980 went on to capture the Republican nomination. With the victory, McCain could put Tuesday's second-place finish in Michigan behind him. And he could argue that he is once again the Republican front-runner as he heads to Florida for its Jan. 29 primary and Super Tuesday, on Feb. 5, when 21 GOP contests will be held.

He promised to uphold the Republican Party values of defending the nation's security and restraining spending, while also reaching out to voters most concerned about the economy. In closing, he alluded to his service as a Navy fighter pilot and as a senator.

"I have served our country all my adult life, and I am prepared for the high office I [seek]," he said. "I asked South Carolinians to help give me the opportunity to serve this country I love a little while longer. . . . You have done that, and I will never forget it."

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

S. Carolina primary

Republicans

John McCain ...33%

Mike Huckabee ...30%

Fred Thompson ...16%

Mitt Romney ...15%

Ron Paul ... 4%

Rudolph W. Giuliani ... 2%

95% of precincts reporting

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