PHOENIX — Republican John McCain conceded the presidential race to Barack Obama, saying the Democrat has achieved a "great thing for himself and for his country."
Flanked by wife Cindy and running-mate Sarah Palin, McCain spoke to supporters outside the Arizona Biltmore Hotel shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, saying the "American people have spoken and they have spoken clearly."
He conceded the contest as polls closed on the West Coast, adding a string of states to Obama's electoral vote tally and sealing the Illinois senator's victory.
McCain stressed the historic nature of the election, noting that an invitation to Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt had been viewed as an insult in some quarters.
"Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country," McCain said.
'Failure is mine'
Although McCain had criticized Obama during the hard-fought campaign as too inexperienced to be president, the Arizona senator said that "in a contest as long and as difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance.
"But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving."
McCain told his supporters that it was natural "to feel some disappointment. Though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours."
McCain had been all but counted out of the contest for the GOP nomination in the summer of 2007, when his campaign was all but broke, and his comeback was a remarkable political feat.
"I don't know what more we could have done to win this election," McCain said. "I'll leave that to others to determine. ... I won't spend a moment in the future regretting what might have been."
McCain also praised Palin, his surprise choice for vice president. The Alaska governor excited the GOP base, especially evangelical voters, but critics dismissed her political resume as brief and light on substance.
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Palin is "one of the best campaigners I have ever seen, and an impressive new voice in our party for reform and the principles that have always been our greatest strength," McCain said, adding that she and her family showed "courage and grace" in the "rough and tumble of a presidential campaign."
Anger among some supporters
Jeri Mott, 58, of Tucson, listened to McCain's concession speech with her arms tightly crossed and a look of disgust on her face.
"I'm thinking that I'm real worried about what's going to happen tomorrow, especially about my troops," said Mott, whose son recently enlisted in the Army. "He'd better be paying close attention to what he's doing with our troops," she said of Democrat Barack Obama. "Don't leave them with nothing."
As for the historic nature of the night, Mott didn't much care.
"I have no problem with an African American at the helm. It's his vision of what he wants to do that I have a big problem with."
"The wrong African American," she called Obama.
'I'm really sad'
Molly Pinckney, 60, of Phoenix stood frowning, the red pom pom she earlier had waved tucked by her side.
"I'm really sad. I'm sad for our country."
What happens next depends on the president-elect, she said. "It really depends on how Obama behaves ... whether he's going to let rabble-rousers tear this country apart."
The night began appropriately enough with Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" booming from the speakers at the Arizona Biltmore resort, the same place where, 28 years ago, McCain and his wife, Cindy, celebrated their wedding.
Hundreds of supporters wore buttons and T-shirts proclaiming "Victory 2008," chanted their guy's name and, like the candidate they gathered to honor, projected optimism and faith.
But as the night wore on, organizers temporarily stopped broadcasting the returns overhead and announced few results, as if not to put a damper on the party. Those they did disclose lagged behind national projections showing Obama gaining on McCain.
Even after Obama had been declared the winner in Pennsylvania and Ohio, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer walked on stage to tell the crowd about "another state in the McCain category. It's the great state of Louisiana!"
A roar erupted, and Roemer promised: "This election still has some anxious moments to go."
Returns unavailable to them, supporters instead danced to Hank Williams Jr. singing, "Mac is going to survive."
"He's already lost Ohio. They think. Right?" said John Moore said from the back of the crowded ballroom. "I'm wondering why they're not showing us that much. I wish I had a BlackBerry so I could track it myself."
He and his wife tried to put a positive spin on the information blackout: "I'm sure it's going to be positive," said John. "Maybe they're building momentum."
But around 8:30 local time, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., took to the stage to deliver what sounded like a eulogy to McCain's quest for the presidency.
"The truth of the matter is it is uphill. This has always been an uphill race. Yet John McCain kept clawing back, he kept clawing back until tonight." He applauded McCain's "fighting spirit," while still telling the crowd the race was too close to call.
One supporter muttered, "I'm feeling like doom is coming."
In closing, Kyl cited a Bible passage that seemed as appropriate an ending to McCain's campaign as any.
2 Timothy 4:7: "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."
Before McCain took the stage, Nathaniel Eyler, 29, of Phoenix, mouthed the words as the song "God Bless the USA" played.
"Scared," he said in response to how he felt about the outcome, calling Obama a "socialist."
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I'm scared. Just the idea of Barack Obama as president of the United States scares me. It does not embody the idealism I grew up with and am passionate about. We're Americans. We're resilient. We'll bounce back. Our government's idiot-proof. There's nothing he can do that we can't fix in the end."
Still, he said, "We're going to be taking steps backwards."
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