( Bloomberg ) - Former first lady Nancy Reagan endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in a move McCain said would encourage conservative Republicans to rally around his bid.
Reagan called McCain a ``good friend for over 30 years'' who is well prepared to become commander in chief. McCain, 71, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years after his aircraft was shot down over Hanoi in 1967.
``My husband and I first came to know him as a returning Vietnam War POW and were impressed by the courage he had shown through his terrible ordeal,'' Reagan said today in a statement released by the campaign and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation. ``I believe John's record and experience have prepared him well to be our next president.''
McCain accepted Nancy Reagan's endorsement in the driveway of her Bel Air home in California. He thanked her for support and the ``most gracious hospitality'' she and her late husband extended to him and other POWs after the Vietnam War.
``Obviously, this is an important, most important, expression of confidence,'' McCain said, speaking to reporters and a group of television cameras.
Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 with the support of many registered Democrats, who were attracted to his candidacy in part because of his pledge to boost U.S. military power. Those voters were dubbed ``Reagan Democrats.''
``The Reagan Democrats are very important, and I hope that every one of them and new Reagan Democrats will be watching,'' said McCain, his right arm akimbo to offer support to the 86 year-old Nancy Reagan.
The endorsement may help McCain win over Republicans who revere Reagan's late husband, former President Ronald Reagan, while chafing at McCain's willingness over the years to buck the party's line on issues ranging from taxes to campaign finance reform.
Reagan, who wasn't expected to make any comments beyond her statement, answered a question directed at McCain on what persuaded her to endorse him so early in the process.
After McCain said he hoped ``it's testimony to her confidence in me.'' Reagan then challenged the premise of the reporter's question.
``But it wasn't early on,'' Reagan said. ``Ronnie and I always waited until everything was decided to endorse.''
``Well, obviously this is the nominee of the party,'' she said.