Arizona: Clinton, McCain win

February 5, 2008 9:49:18 PM PST
John McCain won his home state's GOP primary Tuesday, beating Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee by overcoming anger from conservatives who oppose his stance on illegal immigration. Hillary Rodham Clinton won on the Democratic side.At a speech in Phoenix, McCain declared himself his party's front-runner for the presidency.

"Although I've never minded the role of the underdog, and have relished as much as anyone come-from-behind wins," McCain said. "And tonight, I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party front-runner ... And I don't really mind it one bit."

Throughout the campaign, conservatives hammered McCain for his support of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. It's an especially touchy issue in Arizona, where more people cross illegally than any other state along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, criticized McCain's stance as "amnesty" for people who didn't follow the rules.

Retired Air Force Col. Bill Peel of Tucson, a World War II prisoner of war, said he supported McCain.

"That war that we're involved in is probably the No. 1 problem," Peel said. "We've got to get a reasonable solution to that situation over there, and we can't just walk out."

An AP exit poll showed that Clinton led among those who said experience was the most important trait for candidates. Obama had an overwhelming lead among voters who said change was their top priority.

Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill said Obama benefited from thousands of non-traditional voters taking part in the primary.

But Clinton "worked Arizona for years," Merrill said. "Her husband was very popular here, and they've worked the party machine very hard."

Kieth Anderson lined up early at a Lutheran church in Phoenix to cast his ballot for Obama. "Not to use catch phrases that everybody else uses, like in the media, but it really is that feeling of hope," Anderson said.

Anderson said the war in Iraq was his No. 1 concern, citing friends he has lost in the conflict and others he knows who are deployed there. "I'm certain my friends will be back in a year if he's elected," he said.