updated 2/25/2008 2:02:25 PM ET 2008-02-25T19:02:25

John McCain says to win the White House he must convince the country that U.S. policy in Iraq is succeeding. If he can't, he says, "then I lose. I lose."

He quickly backed off that remark.

The likely Republican nominee told reporters: "Let me not put it that stark." On his campaign bus Monday, he said Americans will judge his candidacy on whether they believe he can lead the country on the economy and national security. He said, "Iraq will play a role in their judgment of my ability to handle national security."

"If I may, I'd like to retract 'I'll lose,'" he said.

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