WASHINGTON - Likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain assured GOP governors yesterday that he's a staunch backer of states' rights, furthering his efforts to reach out to all parts of the party.
"I'm a federalist," the Arizona senator said, stressing a division of power between the federal and state governments. "Only the things states can't do should the federal government do.
"Governments matter," he said, repeating the phrase three times. "I want to work with you so we can keep more of the money in your state, and that means further tax cuts if necessary." But, he said, some issues remain federal responsibilities, including border security.
Mr. McCain used his speech at a Republican Governors Association dinner to continue trying to unite the party by courting the GOP establishment that often has viewed him skeptically for his independent streak and willingness to buck the party on several high-profile issues.
He received a standing ovation as he rose to speak. Sitting before him were most of the nation's 22 GOP governors in an ornate room at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, just a couple of blocks from the White House Mr. McCain hopes to occupy - and Republicans hope to hold on to - in January.
"Not long ago it was viewed as maybe an unlikely event that I would be standing before you tonight," he said, reflecting on the past year that saw him go from GOP front-runner to all but dead and back again. "I've never had a more humbling experience than I have had in this campaign."
The audience included a few governors whose names have been floated as possible vice presidential running mates, including Charlie Crist of Florida, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Sarah Palin of Alaska, Jon Huntsman, Jr., of Utah, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.