From CBS News' Andante Higgins:
DALLAS -- McCain finally did it. After a long, hard road, he clinched the GOP nomination after gaining more than the required 1191 delegates in the March 4th primaries.
"I am reminded of the words of Chairman Mao," McCain said. "It's always darkest before it goes completely black,"
McCain kept himself viable during those dark days by working hard and taking on some tough points of view that paid off, according to adviser Mark Salter. After a trip to Iraq in July of 2007, McCain returned with a mission that helped fuel his campaign. In September, he launched the "No Surrender Tour" where he traveled the country on his Straight Talk Express telling voters to support the surge in Iraq. He told audiences American soldiers wanted to complete the job and voters should "let them win." His push appeared successful as he and other Republicans fought Democrats in Washington who wanted to withdraw forces and funds.
With limited funds, McCain focused on a few primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He finished fourth in Iowa, but took New Hampshire the same way he did in his last bid for the presidency in 2000. "He worked New Hampshire like he knew he could, better than any candidate with 101 town halls," said Salter.
McCain squeezed a win out of South Carolina, which increased his momentum into Florida. He's been the presumptive nominee since Mitt Romney dropped out in February, but has continued to campaign in primary states as Mike Huckabee insisted on staying in the race, hoping for a miracle.
McCain says he's ready to move to a general campaign with travel all over the United States fighting for every vote. "We want to go everywhere," McCain said. "We will contest every constituency in America, whether they be farmers, whether they be workers, whether they be Hispanics or they be African-American. No matter who it is or where they are we are competing for their vote."
Salter says McCain will incorporate his trademark town hall meeting format into his general election campaign. "I think we'll do a lot of other things but I think we'll do a lot of town halls. He likes it, the voters like it," he said. "Voters don't want to just be talked to, they want to be listened to."
Salter says McCain will be prepared for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. "We're running against an unknown Democratic candidate right now," he said. "They're both offering the same thing. When you can discern what Obama is offering, beyond the promise of hope, they have very similar policies."
After a late celebration last night, McCain was back at work at the break of dawn. He headed to Washington, D.C., where his first order of business will be lunch with President Bush at noon and a meeting with the Republican National Committee.
Staff members and advisers sported red eyes with smiles as they boarded. The McCain camp is a casual bunch who tend to be a dressed down, but today, along with their red eyes and possible hangovers, they sport suits, slacks, suspenders, button-down shirts and even ties. "Today is the first day of the general election for the McCain campaign," adviser Steve Schmidt said. "There's a lot of hard work ahead now that McCain is the nominee."