Sen. John McCain congratulated rival Mike Huckabee on winning Iowa's presidential caucuses Thursday and said it shows that negative campaigns — such as opponent Mitt Romney's — are doomed to fail.
Romney spent the final few weeks before Iowa cast the first votes of the 2008 presidential election engaged in an aggressive contest with Huckabee, a Baptist pastor turned politician. Huckabee resisted the temptation to respond in kind, instead relying on his wit and humor. McCain said civility is one of the lessons to take from Iowa's results.
"One, you can't buy an election in Iowa," said McCain, whose own financial woes have affected his campaign. "And two, negative campaigns don't work. They don't work there and they don't work here in New Hampshire."
McCain, however, resisted efforts to call Romney's loss a McCain win when reporters pressed him on what it would mean for his own fortunes in the next contest, the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.
"I consider it to be Gov. Huckabee's victory," said McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain, citing his financials and no television advertising, said "we were predicted to finish very badly" in Iowa. But Romney's stumble there opens a chance from McCain to build momentum here and own a lead he has started to build in recent months.
"I just left a voice message — and I expect to talk to him later tonight — to congratulate Governor Huckabee for his victory. He's run a very good, smart, positive campaign and I think he can be very proud of it," McCain said.
McCain and Huckabee have enjoyed a detente in recent weeks, generally refusing to engage each other. Instead, they found themselves fighting with Mitt Romney, who came in second in Iowa.
McCain passes up Iowa
McCain, who didn't spend as much time in Iowa, looked to a fourth place finish in the first test of campaign strength. Unlike his rivals, he didn't spend the entire day in Iowa, instead flying back to New Hampshire where he had town hall-style meetings and met with supporters — a sign from his campaign that their effort was supposed to start here.
McCain's style might give him an edge here, where he won the 2000 primary by 19 percentage points over then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Earlier Thursday, he engaged in a spirited exchange with a voter who challenged him to explain what he hopes the U.S. military will accomplish in Iraq and when he would bring the troops home.
"I do not believe one U.S. soldier being killed every day is success," said Dave Tiffany, who described himself as a full-time anti-war activist. He demanded to know from McCain "how long you want us to be there."
The two went back and forth several times, with McCain insisting that what matters most is ending American casualties, not their presence in Iraq. He said he would be fine with keeping troops in Iraq for decades as long as they weren't being harmed, similar to the arrangements that exist in South Korea, Japan and other countries.
"A thousand years. A million years. Ten million years," McCain said. "It depends on the arrangement we have with the Iraqi government."