McCain scents Super Tuesday victory

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The Independent US

John McCain has allowed himself to look beyond the suspense of tomorrow's Super Tuesday primary contests by predicting that he would win his party's nomination – and even the presidency in November – but he quickly stepped back, lest he be accused of overconfidence.

"I assume I will get the nomination of the party," a buoyant Mr McCain told supporters in Nashville, Tennessee, while barnstorming through America's Deep South, territory that should favour Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, one of 21 states holding Republican primaries tomorrow.

Senator McCain does indeed seem to be on a roll, propelled forward by his win in Florida almost one week ago as well as his taking of South Carolina before that. He has also benefited from a string of high-profile endorsements, most recently from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California.

But Mr McCain is a superstitious man and later sought to tone down his predictions of victory. "I hope I am not too confident about Tuesday," he said when asked about his comments by reporters.

But he added: "I'm guardedly optimistic. I sense a feeling of momentum but we're not taking anything for granted. That's why we're campaigning literally 24/7 between now and Tuesday. We are taking nothing for granted."

While Mr Huckabee may siphon off some evangelical and Christian conservative votes, he presents no real threat to Mr McCain. His closest rival, Mitt Romney, is trying to stave off disaster on Super Tuesday, pouring funds into television advertising and hop-scotching between battleground states. If he stumbles badly tomorrow, he could be forced to acknowledge that the nomination is Mr McCain's.

Mr McCain will today hold a large downtown rally in Boston, just steps from the state Capitol building where Mr Romney presided as Massachusetts governor until starting his presidential bid.

In a symbolic boost, Mr Romney easily beat Mr McCain in Republican caucuses held in Maine on Saturday, taking more than 50 per cent of the votes. "I think it's a harbinger of what you're going to see on Tuesday," Mr Romney told reporters while campaigning in Minnesota. "It's coming kind of late in the process but not really too late."

But if Mr Romney is wrong, and Mr McCain is indeed sitting pretty, it is all the more remarkable given how close his campaign came to running aground last summer.

Aides acknowledged over the weekend that he was forced to take the extraordinary step of taking out a life insurance policy as a condition for a new loan to keep his campaign afloat in case he died before the November election. And while he is expected to perform strongly tomorrow – his rivals have all but conceded the delegate-rich states of New York, New Jersey and California to him – he may yet struggle to win support from conservative Republicans, who remain suspicious of his positions on immigration and taxation.

Conservative commentators still unwilling to champion his candidacy include the radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who has predicted that Mr McCain is going to "destroy the Republican Party", while Ann Coulter, a right-wing pundit and author, has said she would rather vote for Hillary Clinton.