McCain said Democrats "refuse to acknowledge the progress" in Iraq.
LEXINGTON, South Carolina (CNN) – Buoyed by an apparent reduction in violence in Iraq, McCain hit the campaign trail Monday and tore into Democrats running for president and in Congress for "willfully ignoring the facts on the ground" in the country.
In his first campaign stop since returning from a trip to Iraq over Thanksgiving, McCain told an audience here that there is clear military progress on the ground and "a dramatic shift in the attitude of the Iraqi people."
"Today it is clear we have succeeded with this new strategy," said McCain, who has supported the so-called "troop surge" since its inception. "The Democrats refuse to acknowledge that, they refuse to acknowledge the progress. They are willfully ignoring the facts on the ground in my view."
McCain said the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "has got a long way to go" and said that "winning" requires political progress in the country, but he criticized Democrats for continuing their calls to remove combat forces from the country.
"There's a lot at stake here," he said. "I understand my friends the politics of it. I understand it when the Democrats stand up and fall all over each other to decide who can get us out the quickest, but I am grateful that we Republicans have stood fast, I am grateful that this president has stood fast."
McCain took on Sen. Hillary Clinton for comments she made in September to Gen. David Petraeus during his testimony on Iraq progress before the Senate. At the time, Clinton said that Petraeus' progress report required "a willing suspension of disbelief."
"My friends, any objective observer today would have to suspend disbelief to know that it's not working," McCain said. "It is working and it's working successfully, and the people of Iraq are far better off now than when we began this."
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby