John McCain's long battle for the White House ended on the back lawn of a luxury hotel in downtown Phoenix, as he conceded defeat to Barack Obama and urged America to pull behind its new president.
The Republican campaign put on a brave face as the 72-year-old congratulated his Democratic rival on having "achieved a great thing for this country" and pledged "not to spend a moment regretting the actions" that led him to a landslide defeat in yesterday's election.
For the 7,000 supporters who had crammed into the Biltmore Hotel for McCain's "Road to Victory" party, and who still hoped for an against-the-odds victory, the speech made for sober viewing. Widespread boos greeted McCain's more gracious comments about his victorious rival.
"Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences," he said. "No doubt those differences remain. But these are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight that I will help him lead us through the many challenges that we may face."
"I urge all Americans to join me in not just congratulating him, but in offering our next president our goodwill and encouragement in finding ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises to settle our differences, to help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world and leave our children and grandchildren in a stronger better country than we inherited."
As the debate among Republicans turned to the thorny subject of how they had suffered their worst defeat in almost fifty years, McCain urged unity and accepted full responsibility for the outcome of the election.
"It is natural tonight to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again. We fought as hard as we could. And thought we fell short, the failure is mine. Not yours... I wish I could have done better, my friends."
Many guests at the event blamed McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, for the scale of his defeat. When the Arizona senator delivered a somewhat measured "thank you" to the Alaskan governor, isolated boos seemed audible in the crowd.
"I am also of course very thankful to Governor Sarah Palin," said McCain. "She is one of the best campaigners I have ever seen and an impressive new voice in our party for reform and the principles that have always been our greatest strength. We can all look forward with great interest to her future service to Alaska, the Republican party, and our country."
Footage of McCain's comments, delivered on a hastily-constructed stage containing a large stars and stripes banner together with two Arizona state flags, was transmitted to guests in the hotel's massive ballroom via video link.
Though many conservatives described McCain's campaign as too moderate, few could have faulted his commitment in the final stages of the election.
He had broken with tradition to spend most of election day on the stump, voting at Phoenix's Albright United Methodist Church in the morning, before embarking on a physically-draining tour of the key states of Colorado and New Mexico.
Despite growing progressively hoarser as the day wore on, he had attempted to revel in the role of underdog, branding himself "Super Mac" and arriving onstage to the theme music from Rocky and Top Gun.
If nothing else, the events helped him rediscover at least some of the buzz that had been missing from much of the remainder of his campaign.
"Fight for our country! Fight for what you believe in!" he had exhorted supporters in his final major stump speech in Grand Junction, Colorado.
"Fight for America. Fight for the ideals and culture of free people! Fight for our future! Fight for justice for all! Stand up, stand up and fight!"
After leaving Colorado, the Arizona senator had visited a Republican phone bank in New Mexico, where he spoke to volunteers and encouraged them to make one last effort to get out the vote.
In what seemed like a metaphor for his subsequent poll performance, his campaign jet was forced to abort its first landing attempt after a military aircraft was spotted blocking the runway of Albuquerque airport.
The Biltmore provided an appropriate venue for the most important night of McCain's political career. It was where he married his wife, Cindy, almost 30 years ago, and alse where he gathered supporters on the night of "Super Tuesday," when he had effectively clinched the Republican nomination.
Last night, as Republicans considered the future of a party that now seems hopelessly divided, the Frank-Lloyd Wright building seemed a strangely comfortable venue for a party that had in the space of a few small hours turned into a wake.
As guests drank Budweiser beer – the source of Cindy McCain's family fortune – many enviously eyed the celebrations taking place among their rivals in Chicago. McCain wrapped up his speech by urged them to be positive about the future.
"Tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country, and for all of its citizens." he said. "It has supported me and Sen. Obama and I wish God speed to the man who was my opponent and will be my president."Reuse content