- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sen. John McCain won a solid share of yesterday’s Super Tuesday slate of primaries and caucuses, grabbing a big lead in delegates, but he was denied total victory by surprising victories chalked up by Mitt Romney out west and Mike Huckabee in the South.

Photos:Super Tuesday results

Photos:Day of primaries

On the strength of his organizational skills Mr. Romney won seven states, mostly caucuses in western states, while Mr. Huckabee won five Southern states — and in the process both exposed conservative voters’ continuing inability to win over the conservative voters that make up the party’s base.

Recognizing that, Mr. McCain last night declared as much of a victory as he could, but already turned his rhetorical arrows at trying to nail down conserative Republicans.

“We’ve won a number of important victories in the closest thing we’ve ever had to a national primary,” he told supporters at his post-election party in Phoenix, saying he now considers himself “the Republican Party front-runner for the nomination.”

“I promise you, if I am so fortunate to win your nomination, I will work hard to ensure that the conservative philosophy and principles of our great party … will again win the votes of a majority of the American people and defeat any candidate our friends on the other side nominate,” he said.

Mr. McCain won in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma and California. Mr. Huckabee won contests in Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. And Mr. Romney won in Massachusetts, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Colorado and Alaska.

Most important for Mr. McCain, his victories in winner-take-all big states and his domination in California, which splits votes by congressional district, will score him a huge number of delegates needed to win the nomination at September’s Republican convention in Minneapolis.

With 87 percent of precincts in California reporting as of 8 a.m. today, Mr. McCain was winning in all but two of the state’s 53 congressional districts, and Mr. Romney was only close in a handful of others.

Mr. Huckabee’s strong showing left him to declare that he had topped Mr. Romney as the conservative alternative to Mr. McCain.

Over the past few days, a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race. Well, you know what? It is, and we’re in it, the former Arkansas governor said at his victory party in Little Rock last night.

Mr. Romney vowed to continue running and told his supporters in Boston last night that he still sees a path to the nomination.

There are some people who thought it was all going to be done tonight, but it’s not all done tonight. We’re going to keep on battling, he said.

Still, he failed to narrow the race to the man-on-man contest that he had sought with Mr. McCain, which means conservatives will continue to split their votes.

Mr. Huckabee said Mr. Romney’s window is closing even as his own is opening.

The conservatives do have a choice because the conservatives do have a voice, he said.

And those conservatives are apparently still shopping.

Exit polls showed that only in Connecticut did Mr. McCain actually win a plurality of self-identified conservative voters, barely topping Mr. Romney in the Northeastern state. In every other state, he trailed Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Romney or both.

In Utah he was tied for second with Rep. Ron Paul, well behind Mr. Romney, among conservative voters.

Even in his own home state of Arizona, Mr. McCain trailed badly among conservatives, with just 36 percent to Mr. Romney’s 47 percent. And in California, Mr. Romney won nearly half of conservative voters, with 48 percent, according to the MSNBC exit polls.

Mr. McCain’s problems with conservatives only deepened when James Dobson, the influential founder of conservative powerhouse Focus on the Family, said yesterday that he would rather stay home in November than vote for Mr. McCain.

A spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down, he said. I cannot, and will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.

Conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie said the discontent goes deep.

It’s not just famous conservatives who feel this way. … It’s grass-roots conservatives, who remember what the senator did on taxes, immigration, freedom of speech, the gay ‘marriage’ amendment, ‘global warming,’ and a score of other issues, he said.

Mr. McCain argues that Republicans will unite behind his strong national defense message and says his record shows he can reach across party lines and build a coalition that can help him compete for votes across the country in November.

He has a chance to make inroads tomorrow when he is scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington — a gathering he snubbed last year.

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