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McCain: The Bush Heir?

Memphis, Tenn. -- Six years removed from a bitter primary fight against President George W. Bush, Arizona Sen. John McCain voiced agreement with the chief executive on nearly every pressing issue of the day in his speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference Friday night.

Aside from urging conference attendees to write in Bush's name on today's straw poll ballot, McCain said the commander-in- chief "deserved better" on the Dubai ports deal, did "exactly the right thing" by trying to reform Social Security, acted "very appropriately" by not taking military action off the table when it comes to dealing with Iran, and "anyone who says the President of the United States is lying about weapons of mass destruction is lying."

In other words, if anyone came to the SRLC doubting whether McCain was working both publicly and privately to court those Republican voters who backed Bush during both the 2000 and 2004 elections, those doubts were effectively erased tonight.

President Bush was not the only one who came in for praise by McCain. Some examples:

*"He gets it done." (Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott)

* "There is no one in America who knows more about education or who is a better advocate for education." (Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander)

* "What a man. What a governor." (Gov. Haley Barbour)

McCain was also adamant about the need to subsume any presidential desires he might have in pursuit of the more immediate goal of holding majorities in the House and Senate in 2006. He pledged to "concentrate on the problems at hand and let the future work itself out."

His biggest applause line of the night? "We should always keep our personal ambitions at a distant second to standing with the president."

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 11, 2006; 9:44 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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