(CNSNews.com) - Republican George W Bush is thanking Virginia, North Dakota, and Washington state for decisive victories in Tuesday's contests.
"We are one step closer to victory," he said as the returns came in. "One step closer to a united party, and the Clinton-Gore administration is one step closer to the exit door."
In the Virginia primary, with all of the precincts reporting, Bush defeated Arizona Sen. John McCain 53-44 percent (Bush, 350,185 votes; McCain, 290,779). Alan Keyes had 20,294 votes, or 3 percent of the total.
Bush seized on his strong showing in Virginia to note that "the voters of Virginia rejected the politics of pitting one religion against another," a reference to his rival McCain, who has seized on Bush's recent visit to Bob Jones University in South Carolina to paint Bush as "anti-Catholic."
Bush said, "This campaign is winning and we're doing it the right way. We are uniting our party without abandoning our principles. We are expanding our base without destroying our foundations."
On Monday in Virginia Beach, McCain alienated many Christian conservatives by comparing their bosses to union leaders, bent on preserving power and prestige. Although his message bombed in conservative Virginia, McCain obviously expects it to attract Democrats and independents in the "Super Tuesday" round of primaries on March 7.
In North Dakota, with 100 percent of districts reporting, Bush had 6,865 votes, or 76 percent, and McCain had 1,717 votes, or 19 percent. Keyes had 481 votes, or 5 percent.
And in Washington state, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Bush had 214,611 votes, or 58 percent, and McCain had 141,151 votes, or 38 percent. Keyes had 8,955 votes, or 2 percent.
A relaxed-sounding Bush told his supporters, "We are winning the debate of substance - the contest of ideas. Republicans and independents are rallying to our cause because we are speaking to their hopes. Voters are responding to our compassionate conservative agenda and my record as a reformer with results."
Bush has now regained the lead in delegates, too. After Tuesday's clean sweep, he now has 170 delegates toward the total of 1,034 he needs to win the GOP nomination. McCain has 105 delegates and Keyes has 5.
McCain told reporters on his campaign bus, "We'll look forward to Super Tuesday when we have a broad cross section of Americans all voting on that same day." According to the polls, McCain leads in some northeastern states.
On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore scored an overwhelming victory in the Washington state primary, stopping Bill Bradley's all-out effort to make headway in his faltering presidential campaign. Although no delegates were at stake, the Gore victory costs Bradley some badly needed momentum.
"This is really a sweet, sweet victory," Gore said in a conference call to his Washington supporters. "We climbed another mountain tonight."
Bradley reportedly has refused the advice of some supporters that he should drop out of the race. He told reporters that "March 7 [Super Tuesday] is the takeoff time for this campaign."