- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The first victory of the day went to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who came from behind to defeat former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in West Virginia’s Republican convention.

Mr. Huckabee gained his victory, which gives him all of West Virginia’s 18 delegates to the Republican National Convention, when supporters of Sen. John McCain of Arizona threw their votes to Mr. Huckabee to thwart Mr. Romney.

Mr. Huckabee bested Mr. Romney on the second ballot with 51.5 percent of the 1,133 delegates attending the state’s first presidential nominating convention. Mr. Romney was backed by 47.4 percent.

However, Mr. Romney entered the event with the largest pledged bloc of delegates and attracted the largest vote — 41 percent — on the first ballot. Mr. Huckabee captured 33 percent on the first tally. Fifteen percent went to Mr. McCain and 10 percent to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

Knowing victory was outside its grasp, the McCain campaign focused on defeating Mr. Romney, so it told supporters to back Mr. Huckabee.

“Obviously the best scenario for John McCain’s campaign was not to have a Mitt Romney victory,” said Gary Abernathy, a McCain supporter and former Republican Party director in West Virginia.

Mr. Romney was furious about the maneuver, which he said showed Mr. McCain’s contempt for Republican voters.

“Senator McCain cut a Washington backroom deal in a way that once again underscores his legacy of working against Republicans who are interested in championing conservative policies and rebuilding the party,” Romney campaign manager Beth Myers said.

Mr. Huckabee denied making a deal with Mr. McCain and accused Mr. Romney of “whining.”

Top McCain adviser Charlie Black said in a telephone interview that there “wasn’t a deal.”

“We just threw our support to Huckabee,” Mr. Black said.

In the middle of it all, Mr. Paul’s campaign said it struck a deal, directing his supporters to support Mr. Huckabee in exchange for three of the 18 delegates that Mr. Huckabee won yesterday. Spokesman Jesse Benton said it was “a done deal, brokered and announced in front of all the [West Virginia] delegates.”

The Huckabee campaign was miffed.

“Huckabee campaign officials were not involved in a deal,” campaign manager Chip Saltsman said.

Of the four candidates, only Mr. McCain did not make a personal appeal to the convention before the vote.

The convention illustrated Mr. McCain’s late meteoric rise back into the nomination picture.

Mr. Abernathy said convention delegates had to register by Nov. 30, when Mr. McCain’s campaign was still floundering, so he went into yesterday’s voting with few pre-pledged supporters. In fact, Fred Thompson, who has dropped out of the race, went into the convention with more committed supporters than Mr. McCain.

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