Republican John McCain challenged the notion he is struggling to rally conservative critics as he picked up the endorsement Monday of evangelical leader Gary Bauer.
"We're doing fine. We're doing fine," McCain told reporters in Annapolis, dismissing the notion that losses in two states on Saturday had hurt his campaign.
McCain lost in Kansas and Louisiana on Saturday to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, although he won narrowly in Washington state. The Arizona senator is all but assured his party nod after rolling up huge numbers of delegates, 719, to the national convention. Huckabee has 234.
"We have close to 800 delegates. Last time I checked, Governor Huckabee had very few, so I think I'm happy with the situation I'm in," McCain said. "I'm quite pleased, recognizing that we have a lot of work to do."
Conservatives signing on
The endorsement from Bauer, a leading conservative voice, came at a critical time as McCain shifts to campaigning as the Republican nominee-in-waiting. McCain's emphasis since last week, when chief rival Mitt Romney exited the race, has been on reaching out to conservative critics in an effort to unite the party.
Bauer was the latest of several conservatives to sign on, but McCain still faces outspoken opposition from some foes, including talk radio host Rush Limbaugh who had threatened to boycott a race in which McCain is the nominee. Some on the party's right flank distrust McCain's moderate positions on some issues and his willingness to work with Democrats in Congress.
"There's passions on both sides this year, but I would point this out to my friends in the Republican Party," Bauer said Monday on MSNBC. "With all the passions in the Democratic Party and the battle there, I don't see Hillary Clinton supporters saying, 'I'll never vote for Obama.'"
"At the end of the day, they're going to be united. And I believe if I can work with Senator McCain to make him the best conservative candidate possible, that's a good thing," Bauer said.
Bauer, former head of the Family Research Council and founder of the Campaign for Working Families, unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2000. He is a well-known abortion opponent who said in a statement that McCain "has dedicated his life to defending human rights around the world, including the rights of the unborn."
Huckabee, too, is known for opposing abortion rights. In Annapolis, McCain chuckled at a question about why people persist in voting for Huckabee despite McCain's lock on the nomination.
"Because they like him," McCain said. "I never expected a unanimous vote, although I would certainly like to have that. But I think we'll continue to win primaries across the country, including tomorrow.
"I hope that we'll do well here. I have great confidence that we will, both here and in Virginia and in the District of Columbia," McCain said.
Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., vote on their choice for party nominee on Tuesday. McCain was campaigning later Monday in Richmond, Va.
McCain acknowledged he has had trouble performing well in states that hold caucuses instead of primary elections. He said the kind of organization needed to win caucuses would have taken money he hasn't had. He noted some of the big states voting next — Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania — are holding primary elections, not caucuses.
"We'll continue to work hard, particularly now that we've got enough funds to organize," McCain said.
McCain said it is Huckabee's right to challenge the results in Washington state. Huckabee advisers are protesting that the state GOP called the race too quickly for McCain.
"I think it's pretty clear that we won," McCain said at the news conference. "He obviously has the right to challenge if he chooses to. But I honestly don't know enough about the details, except I know that state parties decide elections when they have sufficient evidence as to who has won and who has lost. That's not unusual in any way."