Presidential candidate John McCain's sweeping victories on Super Tuesday revealed what could be a post-partisanship era in politics.
Republican voters across the country turned away from the party's more conservative candidates and selected the Arizona senator again and again in primary contests from New York to California.
The ultraconservative radio talk show hosts, bloggers and newspaper columnists simply didn't resonate with the party's majority members - the soccer moms and NASCAR dads who never attend precinct meetings, but showed up on election day. Whether those high-profile opinion givers like it or not, McCain is their man.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., traveling with McCain from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, was asked whether McCain's success illustrated the Republican Party is far more mainstream than it has appeared during the past seven years.
"Perhaps. I hesitate to call it 'mainstream,' but yeah, that's probably right," Flake told the Tribune. "It certainly is more diverse than some people want to admit."
Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., also traveling with McCain, said McCain's single-day achievement indicated the GOP is a centrist party.
"It tells you that folks from the hard right kind of make their living by whipping things up," he said.
"And it also tells you that Republicans are pragmatic. They understand that there is kind of a core Republican philosophy. They want to see candidates with that philosophy win. They don't want to get behind some extreme candidate and lose the seat," Shadegg said.
McCain will have the opportunity to spell out his Republican philosophy today at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, as he continues his quest to lock up his party's nomination for November's general election.
The other remaining Republican presidential candidates are expected to attend the conference as well, but according to a pencil-and-paper analysis conducted by McCain senior adviser Charlie Black, neither Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee nor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney can win enough delegates to secure the nomination.
McCain told reporters in Phoenix he planned to use the forum in Washington to discuss his belief that he shares common conservative values and principals with most fellow party members.
"We should coalesce around those issues in which we are in agreement, and, I hope, respectfully disagree on the few specifics that there is disagreement on," McCain said.
"And we share the common principles and values and ideas for the future of this country based on a fundamental conservative political philosophy which has been my record."
The presumptive Republican nominee said the forum will provide a good opportunity to discuss particular policy positions. For instance, he said he and Huckabee have different approaches to health care and he looked forward to discussing details of their respective plans.
However, McCain has no intention of reaching out to the ultraconservatives on the airwaves and in print who question his GOP credentials.
"I do hope that, at some point, we would just calm down a little bit and see if there are areas we can agree on, for the good of the party and the good of the country," he said.
"I haven't responded to any of it, as you know, and won't. I think they've made their case against me pretty eloquently, if that's the right word. ... And I think the majority of Republicans across the board have stated their view."
One of the most compelling moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain said, was sharing a campaign platform with former Democratic and now independent Sen. Joe Lieberman in New Hampshire and pledging to the audience that they would reach across the political aisle and work with one another.
"Everyone stood and cheered. They want us to work together and I think we can do that sharing common principles and values," McCain said.
The trip to Washington marked a change of plans. Originally, McCain planned a vacation to Europe after Super Tuesday, but instead he and his team decided to continue to campaign hard in an effort to wrap up the nomination as soon as possible.
The next contests are in Louisiana, Kansas and Washington state on Saturday, and Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia on Tuesday.
McCain also said he has resisted any urge to even consider a possible vice presidential running mate.
"When I win the nomination, then I will start considering that. I am incredibly superstitious and if I ever talked about that, I think that would be the one path I could find defeat," McCain said.