PHOENIX // The Republican presidential candidate John McCain conceded defeat today, congratulating his Democratic rival Barack Obama and calling for Americans to unite behind their new leader. The 72-year-old Arizona senator threw in the towel after results showed Mr Obama had been confirmed as the winner of the most gripping presidential election battle in history. "My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly," Mr McCain said in a speech to supporters gathered on the lawn of Phoenix's luxury Arizona Biltmore Hotel.
"A little while ago, I had the honour of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love," he added, to scattered boos. "In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance." Mr McCain said the election of Mr Obama as America's first black president would help the country heal its racial demons and called on supporters to rally behind their new leader.
"This is a historic election. I recognise the special significance it has for African-Americans, for the special pride that must be theirs tonight. "I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too. "But we both recognise that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation ... the memory of them still had the power to wound.
"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together. "Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans." Mr McCain also extended his sympathies to Mr Obama following the death of his grandmother on Sunday, just before the election. "Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country, and I applaud him for it and offer him his sincere sympathy his beloved grandmother did not see him on this day."
Mr McCain's concession came after a gruelling two-year presidential race that had seen the former Navy pilot and prisoner of war score the Republican nomination earlier this year with a remarkable against-the-odds comeback. Mr McCain had been neck-and-neck with Mr Obama in September but his campaign never recovered after the global financial turmoil that caused hundreds of billions of dollars on Wall Street.