Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Thursday that despite his second-place finish in Michigan's GOP primary he intends to win this state's first-in-the-South contest. The Arizona senator told supporters he would prevail in the state that eight years ago derailed his candidacy.
"Tonight, my friends, we congratulate another candidate's campaign but tomorrow we get up and fight," said the Arizona senator, who flew here late Tuesday evening to await the Michigan returns.
After a victory in last week's New Hampshire primary, McCain had led in national polls. But the Michigan victory for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney further scrambled the dynamics.
McCain got 30 percent of the vote, to 39 percent for Romney.
Focus shifts to South Carolina
Earlier, McCain told The Associated Press he had just talked to Romney to congratulate him on his victory. "Starting tomorrow, we're going to win South Carolina, and we're going to go on and win the nomination," he said.
"I congratulate him on that Michigan welcomed their native son with their support," McCain added. Romney was raised in Michigan and his father, George Romney, was governor and a 1968 presidential contender.
"I said we would win in New Hampshire. We will win in South Carolina," McCain said.
Asked to respond to Romney's comments that his win was "a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism," the four-term senator passed on commenting, saying, "I would not know what he's talking about."
In his session with supporters, McCain said, "For a minute there in New Hampshire, I thought this campaign might be getting easier. But you know what? We've gotten pretty good at doing things the hard way too. I think we've shown them we don't mind a fight."
"We're going to fight for your votes, we're going to win this primary and the nomination of our party and we're going to be proud of the way we do it," he said.
Slated to spend four days
After campaigning intensely in Michigan, McCain quickly shifted his attention to South Carolina. He'll spend the next four days campaigning here.
McCain is hopeful for a strong showing in South Carolina, where his military background should provide a big help, and he needs to show that he's competitive in the South.
But South Carolina has been a disappointment for him in the past. In 2000, he won the New Hampshire primary only to see his campaign run into a wall in South Carolina, where George W. Bush emerged victorious and went on to wrap up the GOP nomination.
Also, among his rivals this time are two southerners _ former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson _ who are mounting strong challenges.
McCain, who is leading in national polls, won the Michigan primary eight years ago on the strength of independent and Democratic-crossover voters.
McCain began running an ad in the state Tuesday involving his longtime public service. Though he did not mention it, his more than five years spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam are well known and give him significant stature among active and retired members of the military. About 413,000 veterans are estimated to be living in South Carolina and hundreds more residents are among the military's active duty and reserves. The state also is in the midst of its largest, single-unit deployment of National Guard troops since World War II.