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Confident McCain Sheds Underdog Tag

Cindy and John McCain in Phoenix. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post).

Updated: 12:26 a.m.
By Juliet Eilperin
PHOENIX -- Even with the outcome of California's GOP primary not yet determined, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told supporters at his victory party that when it comes to locking up his party's nomination, "I am confident we will get there."

While he has traditionally reveled in playing the role of a political underdog, McCain made a point of noting today he had won primaries in some of the country's largest states "in the closest thing we've ever had to a national primary. Tonight, I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican front-runner for the nomination." After the crowd's cheers nearly drowned out the last three words, he added, "And I don't really mind it one bit."

McCain made a point of thanking Arizona for awarding him a win tonight, acknowledging, "You know, I was over 40 years old before I could claim a home town."

And putting a new twist on the old joke he likes to tell about how the failed presidential bids of Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrats Mo Udall and Bruce Babbitt make Arizona "the only state where mothers don't tell their children that someday they could grow up to be president," McCain offered a new assessment of his state's political fortunes.

"I think it's fair to say tonight we might have come a little bit closer to the day when mothers in Arizona could tell their children that someday they could grow up to be president of the United States," he declared.

The crowd went wild.

McCain aides reveled in the fact that Super Tuesday provided significant delegates for their candidate -- and to a lesser extent, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee -- while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney faltered in the South.

"We are ecstatic," McCain strategist Steve Schmidt wrote in an e-mail. "We will finish tonight with a lead of at least 300 delegates. It is a huge night for McCain. And a debacle for Mitt Romney. We congratulate Governor Huckabee for his success."

By Washington Post editors  |  February 5, 2008; 11:55 PM ET
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Next: NY: Clinton Wins 46 Delegate Advantage

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