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McCain sees nomination prize in sight

John McCain is welcoming his Wisconsin win as a sure sign he'll be the Republican presidential nominee.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Republican John McCain cruised to a comfortable victory in Wisconsin, and criticized Barack Obama in a clear indication he’s betting that the Democrat will be his opponent.

“I’m not the youngest candidate. But I am the most experienced,” McCain, 71, said, trying to draw a contrast with Obama, the fresh-faced, 46-year-old who is rolling up wins against opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton in a bid to win the Democratic nomination.

McCain has all but secured the nomination and his victory over GOP opponent Mike Huckabee simply put him closer to officially clinching the 1,191 delegates needed to win the Republican crown.

McCain was the projected winner Tuesday evening in the state of Washington's Republican primary, NBC News declared. McCain is hoping to seize an advantage for the general election while Obama and Clinton continue to fight for their own party nod.

“Thank you, Wisconsin, for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party’s nominee for president of the United States,” McCain said after watching the results in Ohio, which holds its primary on March 4 and is a key general election battleground.

More broadly, the likely GOP nominee used his victory speech to preview his line of criticism against an Obama candidacy. While he never mentioned Obama by name, McCain’s criticism of the Illinois senator was unmistakable. It signaled that McCain’s campaign, at this point, believes it will ultimately face Obama in the fall campaign.

“I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change ... that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people,” McCain said — a clear reference to Obama, whose soaring rhetoric has led critics, including McCain, to question whether he’s all style and no substance.

“Our purpose is to keep this blessed country free, safe, prosperous and proud,” McCain added.

He also keyed in on Obama’s statements about foreign policy and his willingness to meet with leaders of rogue nations, painting him as a novice who would put the country in danger.

“Will the next president have the experience?” he asked. “Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan, and suggested sitting down without preconditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?”

Last August, Obama had said if the United States had actionable intelligence about top terrorist targets in Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf wouldn’t act, the U.S. would. That pledge set off ripples of resentment in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad, prompting Pakistani officials to warn against U.S. incursions into their country.