( dpa ) - US President George W Bush hinted Friday that he endorses Senator John McCain as his Republican Party's candidate for the November 4 presidential election.
McCain appears assured of the party's nomination after his toughest competitor, millionaire businessman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, dropped out of the race Thursday.
"We've had good debates and soon we'll have a nominee who will carry a conservative banner into this election and beyond," Bush told a conference of conservative activists in Washington.
Bush's choice of words was significant because many socially conservative Republican core voters mistrust McCain's independent streak and centrist public image, which may help him win swing voters in November.
The White House insisted that Bush's remarks were not an endorsement because other candidates remain in the Republican race.
"But we are approaching a time when we will have a Republican nominee and we will have a conservative running against a Democratic candidate who will have vastly different views," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
In his speech, Bush urged the Republican right to unite behind the party's eventual nominee, saying the stakes in the election were high.
"So with confidence in our vision and faith in our values, let us go forward, fight for victory, and keep the White House in 2008," he said.
The Republican candidate will be formally confirmed at a September 1-4 national party convention in St Paul, Minnesota. Bush's term ends in January and under the US constitution he cannot seek another four years in office.