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Saying his Senate colleague has wrapped up the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday threw his support to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the GOP’s nominee to be the next president.

McConnell, the conservative leader of the 49-member Republican Conference, had kept his powder dry during the months of a brutal presidential contest, which dwindled to just two candidates Thursday when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney abandoned his bid. McConnell said he is proud that his fellow Senator will secure the GOP nomination, saying it is good for the institution the two lawmakers have shared for more than two decades.

“I think he’s going to be the Republican nominee — it’s essentially over,” McConnell said, responding to a question about McCain’s chances with Romney out of the contests. “There’s widespread pride amongst our Conference that one of our own is going to be our nominee.”

Asked whether his positive review of McCain translates into an endorsement, McConnell said: “He’s certainly going to be our nominee. I’m proud to support him.”

McCain, a sometimes maverick Senator, has been struggling to capture the support of his party’s conservative base and has sparred with McConnell at times over issues like campaign finance reform. But he is well on his way to the nomination, having secured about 700 delegates so far — some 500 short of the number needed to carry his party’s mantel heading into November.

While he appears to be the nominee, McCain still must overcome one final rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who enjoyed a surprising level of support from conservatives in the South during this week’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a leading GOP conservative in the Senate, also endorsed McCain today.

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