- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just days after being anointed the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain failed his first big test, losing Kansas’ caucuses and Louisiana’s primaries yesterday to Mike Huckabee.

It is almost mathematically impossible for Mr. Huckabee to win enough delegates to claim the Republican nomination outright, and Mr. McCain is still almost certain to win eventually. But yesterday’s results suggest conservative voters are still looking to register their anti-McCain sentiment.

Mr. Huckabee romped to a win in Kansas’ caucuses, grabbing 60 percent of the vote to Mr. McCain’s 24 percent. Rep. Ron Paul was third with 11 percent.

And in Louisiana’s primary Mr. Huckabee beat Mr. McCain 43 percent to 42 percent, though under that state’s rules since no candidate got 50 percent of the vote the delegates will be assigned later.

Washington also held caucuses yesterday but final results were not in this morning. Mr. McCain held a 26 percent to 24 percent lead over Mr. Huckabee, with Mr. Paul close behind at 22 percent.

Earlier yesterday Mr. Huckabee had told conservative leaders and activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington he was staying in the race to give them an alternative to Mr. McCain, and would stay in until someone got the needed delegates to win.

“I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those, too,” the former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out of the race at CPAC on Thursday, saying he wanted to clear the field for Mr. McCain, who spoke to CPAC hours later.

Mr. McCain told the conservatives they had their differences but he considered himself one of them, and said he needed them if he was to win in November. Judging by yesterday’s results, they are not yet convinced.

The CPAC straw poll showed about 30 percent of CPAC attendees will stay home or vote for someone else in November.

Next up are contests Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The Louisiana results are all the more surprising because earlier yesterday Mr. Huckabee appeared resigned to a loss there. He told reporters that because of registration deadlines and based on comments by party leaders, the contest results had appeared “cooked” even before voting began.

As in nearly every other primary so far, the exit polling yesterday showed Mr. McCain failed to win self-identified conservative voters.

According to MSNBC’s exit polling, 71 percent of those who voted in Louisiana said they were conservative, and Mr. Huckabee won 51 percent of them to Mr. McCain’s 31 percent. Mr. McCain, meanwhile, did far better among liberal and moderate voters, winning 61 percent and 54 percent respectively.

But the polling also showed Mr. McCain did win a majority of the three in 10 voters who made up their minds only in the last week. He won 53 percent.

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