WASHINGTON (AP) — Arizona Sen. John McCain, a political maverick and unflinching supporter of the Iraq War, clinched the Republican nomination on Tuesday.

McCain, 71, gained the 1,191 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, completing a remarkable comeback that began in the snows of New Hampshire eight weeks ago. President Bush invited him to lunch — and an endorsement — at the White House on Wednesday.

McCain’s last remaining major rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, conceded defeat after a campaign that included a stunning victory in the leadoff Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. “My commitment to him and the party is to do everything possible to unite our party, but more important to unite our country so that we can be the best we can be,” Huckabee said in Irving, Texas.

For McCain, success came on his second try for the White House. He lost the GOP nomination to Bush in 2000.

“The most important race begins,” he said in an Associated Press interview, looking ahead to a fall campaign against either Obama or Clinton, with the country fighting an unpopular war and on the brink of a possible recession.

McCain went over the top in the AP delegate count based on his performance in the night’s primaries in Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont and Texas, as well as a late show of support from Republican National Committee members who are delegates to the party convention next summer in St. Paul, Minn. Campaign aides raised an enormous banner bearing the magic number to serve as a backdrop for his victory celebration in Dallas.

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