John McCain met Republican leaders in Congress today in an attempt to work out how to unify the party for an anticipated match-up with Barack Obama in the November general election.
The latest primaries may have brought victories for McCain in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC, but they also exposed the problems facing his party, with huge turnouts for the Democrats contrasting with low ones for the Republicans.
Republican apathy reflects unease among conservatives with McCain, who is viewed as too moderate, but also the demoralization in the liberal wing after seven years of president George Bush and a feeling that this is the Democrats’ year.
After a meeting with conservatives at the House of Representatives McCain joked: "They do not speak to me. I am an outcast and a pariah." There were tight smiles on the faces of the Republican leaders flanking him, and McCain admitted that the meeting had been "spirited".
But the Republican leaders publicly put aside their differences with him in the interests of party unity and endorsed him. John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, acknowledged McCain has "had some differences" with conservatives but he was backing him.
Roy Blunt, the Republican whip in the House, also endorsed him. "I believe this contest [for the nomination] is over and I think it has produced the best possible nominee for us to take back the White House."
McCain, the senator for Arizona, offered a glimpse of his evolving strategy for the November election when he signaled that he would target what he sees as Obama’s central weakness: lack of policy detail.
"I respect him and the campaign that he has run, but there’s going to come a time when we have to get into specifics," he said. "I’ve not observed every speech he’s given, obviously, but they are singularly lacking in specifics."
The senator for Arizona initially refused to say whether he expected to face Hillary Clinton or Obama but then focused all his subsequent comments on Obama.
He portrayed himself as the candidate of the "center-right" and Obama as one of the most liberal members of the Senate.
McCain is only 370 delegates away from the 1,191 he needs for the nomination.