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McCain Aims to Seal Delegate Deal in Texas

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And here's how nervous John McCain is about tomorrow's primaries. The Republican frontrunner took the weekend off, relaxing at his home in Arizona. McCain stayed out of the spotlight for a couple of days, although he did host a barbeque for reporters last night. Today, he returns to the campaign trail in Texas, where he's expected to go over the top in delegates needed to secure the nomination. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Republican frontrunner John McCain is still about 160 delegates shy of what he needs to lock up the GOP nomination. By the time he takes the stage tomorrow night at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, he's likely to have them. If so, the battle for the role of Republican standard bearer will be over.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): We all the know that primaries are very tough. Primaries pit friends against friends, and sometimes they're more difficult emotionally, frankly, than the general election is. We are getting a larger and larger percentage of the vote in each primary of Republicans that call themselves conservative. I was pleased to have the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee. A lot of people are coming in our direction.

HORSLEY: That Hagee endorsement turned out to be a mixed blessing. The San Antonio mega church pastor is a leader in the Christian Zionist movement, and his support may carry weight with some evangelicals in Texas, but he was also denounced by a bigot by the Catholic League. Hagee's criticized the Catholic Church as a false cult system, and he said Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews. Late last week, McCain was forced to issue a statement saying he does not agree with all of Hagee's views. The episode underscores the fine line McCain is walking as he tries to reach out to social conservatives without losing the moderates and independent voters who fueled his campaign so far.

McCain also won the backing of former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who told his fellow Texans McCain has not only the hat to be president, but the cattle, too. Baker called the Arizona senator a principled pragmatist whose willingness to compromise with Democrats should not set off alarm bells. Baker recalled that Ronald Reagan showed a willingness to compromise as well.

Mr. JIM BAKER (Former Secretary of State): Like the Gipper, John McCain knows that sometimes it's better to take 80 percent of what you want rather than go over the cliff with your flag flying.

HORSLEY: McCain says he expects stark differences between his views, and the Democrats will rally conservatives to his cause during the general election. For him, that campaign is likely to begin in earnest, as soon as tomorrow's votes are counted.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And there are four states at stake in tomorrow's primaries. Read more details at npr.org/elections. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.