McCain's mission proved impossible

PHOENIX -- The Straight Talk Express is parked at the finish line. The crowds are gone. And John McCain is finally alone to consider the next chapter in an already full political life.

McCain took the first step toward bridging those differences on election night. "These are difficult times for our country," he told disappointed supporters. "And I pledge to him (Obama) tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face."

McCain drove to his Sedona ranch Wednesday and made no public statements.

After a wrap-up meeting with his campaign advisers in the morning, he talked about the Senate. "He's thinking about the future and getting engaged with the Senate again," senior adviser Charles Black said. He plans to focus on "Iraq, Afghanistan and the other foreign policy issues."

Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg called McCain's concession speech "stunningly gracious," a sign he was committed to "moving the nation forward."

"Sure, there are some hard feelings left over," Shadegg said, "but both (McCain and Obama) seem more interested in healing the nation."

Shadegg said McCain's level of involvement likely will be up to Obama. Obama could tap his former foe to help develop a national energy strategy and for foreign policy advice. McCain, who disagrees with Obama over how to handle wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

"John McCain," Shadegg said, "will remain fully engaged."

Democrat Tommy Espinoza, a longtime McCain friend who supported the senator in his presidential bid, suggested that the 72-year-old could emerge as a "senior, seasoned statesman who had nothing to lose."

In that role, Espinoza said, McCain might feel less constrained by his own party about working with Democrats on divisive issues such as immigration. McCain co-authored an immigration bill that provided a pathway to legalization. During the GOP primary, though, he backed away from that position and emphasized border enforcement first.

That may have cost McCain much of the Hispanic vote, but he still has strong ties to the Hispanic community, said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Overcoming hard feelings in Washington and at home, Grijalva said, may not be so easy. Grijalva said there was an unusual "meanness" to McCain's campaign, which was "overtaken by political operatives."

He also said McCain showed a "detachment" from issues important to Arizona, such as immigration. Although McCain won there decisively, Grijalva said his scramble to hold the state in the campaign's final days may spur challengers if McCain runs for re-election in 2010.

Yet Espinoza predicts lingering bitterness eventually will clear. "In politics," he says, "there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends. I suspect he will be embraced (in Washington) because in the end, they're going to need his vote."

Contributing: David Jackson