(CNSNews.com) - It was a feisty John McCain who conceded to Texas Governor George W Bush an hour after polls closed in South Carolina, where Bush emerged with a double-digit victory.
Addressing campaign workers at a gathering in Charleston, McCain asked the cheering throng whether they were proud of the campaign they had waged, a question which evoked more cheers. McCain then told the gathering, "You don't have to win every skirmish to win a crusade...and although we fell a little short tonight, our crusade goes forward."
McCain wished Bush "a good night's rest," and added, "he's going to need it."
"My friends, we have just begun to fight and I can't wait for the next round."
Then, McCain took off the verbal gloves, comparing his campaign, which he characterized as "clean and fair," to the Texan's.
"I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land. I want the Presidency in the best way, not the worst way," said McCain. "I will never let ambition overcome principle, never, never," he said to sustained applause and cheers.
As for Bush's contention that he is the "reformer with results," McCain snapped, "I am the real reformer. I don't just say it, I live it."
Addressing Bush's many televised campaign ads, McCain accused his opponent of being a "negative messenger," and insisted his campaign offers voters "a choice between a record of reform and an empty slogan of reform...a choice between experience and pretense."
McCain also repeated his contention that he is the Republican who is "the responsible adult," in calling for a smaller tax cut, while using more of the budget surplus to save Social Security and bring down the national debt. McCain has frequently faulted Bush for proposing too large a tax cut and for failing to spend "one new penny" to save Social Security and bring down the national debt.
More than an hour later, an elated Bush called his win "the victory of a message that is compassionate and conservative and of a messenger that is a reformer with results."
"The people of South Carolina endorsed my agenda...they embraced my vision...my plan to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations...my reforms will give every child the key to a quality education," he said.
Never responding to McCain's earlier address, Bush chose to aim his guns at the Clinton-Gore Administration, which he insisted was responsible for "low morale in the military" and for "playing politics with Medicare and Social Security."
Bush also faulted the administration for giving the nation "the highest taxes in America since World War II." As for the surplus and his plan to cut taxes across the board, Bush insisted, "Today's surplus is not the government's money. It's the people's money."
Insisting his would not be a White House where policy was made by polls and focus groups, Bush said his White House would be "an example of which you can be proud."
Bush also took credit for much of the large voter turnout, which could hit the 600,000 mark, more than double the 276,000 who voted four years ago and concluded his speech by stating "Tonight is the beginning of the end of the Clinton-Gore era."