IMAGE: MCCAIN AND FLORIDA GOVERNOR
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
Less than a day after endorsing Sen. John McCain, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was on the campaign trail with him. The two stopped at a cafe in Tampa early Sunday.
NBC News and news services
updated 1/27/2008 12:16:31 PM ET 2008-01-27T17:16:31

Sen. John McCain on Sunday appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," trumpeting some "good momentum" ahead of Tuesday's Republican primary in Florida and emphasizing his differences with rival Mitt Romney on the war in Iraq.

McCain welcomed the endorsement by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist the night before, as well as one over the weekend by another senior Florida Republican, Sen. Mel Martinez.

"It's bound to give us a bit of a boost," the Arizona senator said of the endorsements.

Crist's endorsement was sought by all the GOP presidential rivals, including former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Asked by NBC's Tim Russert what he'd do if he lost the Florida primary, McCain said he would "go on" and cited "good polling numbers throughout the nation."

"It's going to be a close race on Tuesday," he added. "We've got some good momentum."

The winner of the Florida primary will capture all 57 delegates at stake, a large prize that will set the stage for a virtual nationwide primary on Feb. 5.

On Iraq, Russert noted that Romney recently said McCain should apologize for suggesting he espoused specific timetables for withdrawing troops.

McCain was ready with a response, though, pulling out a note card and reading what he said was a direct quote of Romney calling for "a series of timetables and milestones" known by top officials but not the public and extremists on the ground in Iraq.

McCain also touted his stand last April when he backed a surge in troops and opposed growing calls for withdrawal timetables.

That was a "defining moment" as well as "a low point in my political career," McCain said, because he was in the minority.

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But if we had adopted a timetable, he added, "we would have lost that surge and al-Qaida would have been celebrating."

McCain did not go as far as claiming Romney's statement was one of surrender, but he did say that of a Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton. She had called for a timetable within 60 days, he noted, "and to me that's surrender."

On other issues, McCain defended his conservative credentials, noting that while his stand against pork barrel spending had cost him some support, he has strong ratings from taxpayers' rights groups. "Examine my record," he said.

Russert also noted that President Clinton had said that should McCain face Sen. Clinton the race could be one of the most boring in history since they get along as colleagues.

"It's going to be anything but boring," McCain replied, citing taxes, health care and terrorism as issues on which he'd distinguish himself.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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